November 1st sometimes heralds in the bitter chills of winter but here in north east Scotland we have experienced a day of amazing sunshine and relative warmth. I didn't take the outside temperature but it was probably around 12-14 Deg Centigrade when I was clearing out my flower tubs this afternoon. My lovely dahlias and begonias, and other summer bedding plants, had a fairly long season but eventually had to be resigned to the compost heap.
I had planned to write a piece for Samhain but yesterday was a busy day selling my books at Ellon, Aberdeenshire, and today vanished in a blur of garden tidy ups. Instead, I'm posting a bit from After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks- Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series. This extract happens at Samhain, AD 81.
By this point in the book, Ineda- my main female Brigante character - has been a captive of Tribune Gaius Livanus Valerius for many years. Ineda has been Gaius' personal slave but she's also been his lover and is the mother of his child. Even though 8 years have passed since she was enslaved she is still actively spying for her Brigante brother Celts, sending out important messages whenever she can.
Tribune Gaius Livanus Valerius has had to move to many different Roman Forts in northern Britannia on the orders of his superior, General Agricola, Ineda and her child accompanying him.
By Samhain AD 81, they are in the territory of the Votadini- a tribe that Ineda isn't so comfortable with. She suspects the Votadini chief has been doing deals with the Roman Empire for some years but they haven't divulged that to their neighbouring 'Celtic' tribes of the north.
AD 81 Samhain – Dunpendyr,
“Would you like some fresh fish?”
Ineda studied the expression of the man who had come to the encampment and who had called to her as she walked past his basket, near the periphery of the tented camp. Fresh fish was less plentiful on the plain near the Votadini hillfort of Dunpendyr and Gaius was quite partial to fish of any kind, fresh or salted. Any haggling with the man would no doubt be well worth it. In her usual friendly fashion she learned small details when she engaged local people in such a way. It was also extremely good to be able to leave off the Roman tongue and converse in the language of the Celts.
“And what would you call fresh?” Ineda’s question was not lightly made.
“This fish has been caught locally and brought here along the newly laid route that leads to the camp gates. Is it not wonderful that the road comes north all the way from the place they name Eboracum?” The trader gibbered on, a wide smile encouraging her to answer as he set her more little questions.
“I am sure people will take it from you here at the camp, but if not, the people up in Dunpendyr will also appreciate your catch.”
She had been disheartened during the last Samhain to hear that the Votadini High Chief at Dunpendyr had capitulated to the huge Roman presence around his hillfort. But she had also rejoiced that little Celtic blood had been shed, and that none of the people of Dunpendyr had needed to starve. The small death toll had only arisen during localised skirmishes as Agricola and his legions had advanced northwards in Votadini lands, late in the previous summer season. Now the Roman encampment around Dunpendyr was smaller, many cohorts of the legion already marching northwards even though the winter bite still descended with a vengeance well after Imbolc.
“It is more difficult to catch the fish in freezing weather, lady, but it also means it stays fresh.” The fisherman’s smile was influencing.
The news of Votadini capitulation had reached Gaius less than a season after they had settled in at Easg. Since Gaius always set to with a will, by then the fort at Easg was well repaired, its troops more than ready to fulfil the task of overseeing the safety on Agricola’s main route in Votadini lands, both to the south and the north of the fort. Some local Celtic labour had already been assigned to break the stone rubble necessary to pave it, the treaties made with the High Chief necessitating physical labour from the local tribesmen.
Always alert to the possibility of someone being a contact, Ineda openly declared her contact to Gaius. Drawing Dubv to her side she stroked his dark hair as she smiled at the trader.
“My son’s father, Tribune Gaius Livanus Valerius, is fond of this fish.” She pointed to the smaller of the two types of fish on offer. “But before I buy, I would know where the fish was caught and how far it has travelled to reach here?”
The man’s voice dropped to the merest whisper, his gaze penetrating. An exchange of words ensued which made her more certain of who he was. Nonetheless, caution always ruled.
“Will you be selling similar fish come the morrow?”
The man sounded hesitant. “Aye. If I have caught more of it.”
“Who else would buy your fish?”
A small smile broke free from the trader, his eyes understanding. “Only you and the slave Aeonghus will be buying.”
Nonetheless, she would first speak with Aeonghus before parting with any information to the fish trader.
“Aye! That is the contact.” The following day, Aeonghus whispered the words as he bustled past her going the opposite direction, making sure no one saw them talking, the trader in the same place as the previous day.
“Dubv?” She gained her son’s attention. Her little boy had seen someone to talk to and had become distracted. Children were not plentiful in the camp and times for play rare. “Would you like to go over for a moment?”
A pat to his head sent him across the area of stalls. She never liked him near her when messages were actually exchanged; he was far too bright not to notice something was amiss with his mother. Though she was determined to maintain her role of messenger, she wanted no danger for her precious son.
The trader held out a fish for her inspection. “The fisherman who caught this one awaits news of how tasty you will find it. He tells me he journeys far to hear of the very best catch.”
Equally quiet as the trader, she pretended to smell the fish for freshness as she bent down over it. “Use this information with caution. What I lately overheard is more like a long term plan than for the short term, and Agricola is a man who often makes delays to oversee other important actions in Britannia.”
The man eyes flickered his agreement. “Tell me what you can. I have already heard the governor of Britannia has to change plans often if insurgencies arise elsewhere, or something thwarts the progress of his arrangements.”
Ineda was glad the man had an idea of what Agricola was like and pressed on. “The fourth cohort will move north in two days. They expect to be at the ford to cross the Uisge For, the
three days hence at a place which faces some high hills named Monadh Ochail. I am told there already is a well
established Roman fort some half day’s march south of this crossing place,
though they will not wheel around that way to visit this camp.”
The trader confirmed. “I know of where you speak.”
Ineda spoke hurriedly, eager to tell all she knew even though her information may seem to be a bit mixed up. She could take no time to organise her thoughts and had a lot to convey. “After crossing the river, the fourth cohort will head up through the pass near the western end of those hills through the northern reaches of Damnonii territory on into the southern Venicones lands. They will establish bases at short distances apart, subduing the natives, and taking as much time as they need to create a stable situation.”
“Will they remain there?”
Ineda dare not even shake her head in case she was watched. She instead pointed to another trader as though making general inquiries. “There was some discussion of this. I heard that if winter snows arrive early they will remain encamped in the territory of the southern Venicones but if the winter bite is not too harsh then they may march further north, perhaps even on to the north banks of the next river which flows out to the sea. I believe that to be named the river Tatha, which may border the lands of the Taexali.”
The man’s smile beamed as he nodded at someone passing nearby, his words barely heard from the side of his mouth. “Aye. You speak of the Tatha.”
Ineda pretended to watch Dubv who played a game of ‘knucklebones’ with his little friend. “The advance troops who have already gone to these places have routed out local opposition already, I believe?”
The man’s nod was minimal but sufficient to clarify what she had been told. “Aye, though only to some extent. There have only been small skirmishes. Nothing large enough to make the High Chief capitulate yet.”
“When the tribune’s two cohorts of the 1X arrive later on, they will halt at this place in southern Venicones territory and are expected to remain there during the winter moons. They will build wooden forts for overwintering. Perhaps more than one of good size, since they claim the pass area to be a gateway to the north which must be able to be closed to Celtic warrior movements. The longer term plan after that is to strike northwards, into Taexali lands during the next seasons. The cohorts will split up and will make their usual terrorising raids on the tribespeople who live near the foothills of the mountains where glens open onto the plain. Once they establish their supremacy, the normal Roman pattern of subduing will prevail. New fortlets will be built at all of these crucial glen mouths to hold back any
Caledon attack from the mountains. Agricola
will send sufficient troops northwards for this when the time is right but, as
before, the tribune’s main role will be to ensure supplies to these new
“This news is good.” The trader kept his voice low. “Any further update?”
Ineda nodded. “Only that the cohorts will split up on the flat plains but all of the units will co-ordinate with the arrival of the fleet at some later time.”
“Agricola will send many vessels of the fleet?”
“I do not know this for sure. Agricola already has ambitious plans for the fleet off the west coast of Britannia. If most of the vessels are used to help pacify the Novantae and the Epidii of the western islands then he will have fewer to land on the shores of the eastern Venicones and Taexali.”
“Agricola is a determined general.”
Ineda’s head nodded before she realised what she did. A hasty look to where her son played followed the imprudent move. “What I heard was that once the troops are disembarked and in place in from the shoreline, a large subduing attack will be mounted – though I do not believe that will be for many seasons yet. The troops from the fleet will burn from the shoreline and will prevent escape in that direction.”
Ineda scanned around to make sure no one was near. “I have no knowledge of how soon this will happen but the troops under Tribune Valerius’ command will run a large fort on a flat plateau near the river, close to where the
emerges from the hills. The fort will be built to house a legion and more. Many
Roman troops will be dispatched from elsewhere to this place. It will be the vexillations
soon to arrive who will go on the offensive across the plains and who will
block off all the mountain passes to keep the Caledons at bay.” Tatha River
“Our Celtic forces must attack this structure or prevent it from being built!”
Ineda was now unsure that anything at all would hamper the development of Roman domination. “Perhaps a raid will halt progress temporarily, but it will take many Celts to halt them forever.”
Her answer was the best she could give and she herself was likely to be at that fort soon. Her own safety was not a concern but she fretted all the time for her son and for her soon to be born child.
She froze on hearing the call from behind. Pomponius had sneaked up on her, so intent had she been on delivering her message. Surely he had not been close enough to have heard her low words? A deep dread filled her. Confidence about the future sent a shiver down her spine.
“Ineda? Why is Dubv wandering so far from your side? I do not like him talking to that boy over there; he is the offspring of a camp follower!”
Turning to the officious secretary she pasted on a smile willing her heart to cease its thumping. Though Pomponius had a great love for her son, his hatred of her seemed to grow every day. His finding more to complain about her was not only tiresome but worrying. Being only tolerated because she was Gaius’ woman was a precarious position.
Being found out to be a traitor would be a disaster.
“He is not so far from my sight, Pomponius.”