Before Beltane, Excerpt by Nancy Jardine 

Two lives. Two stories. One future.

AD 71 Northern Britannia

At the Islet of the Priestesses, acolyte Nara greets each new day eager to heal the people at Tarras Hillfort. Weapon training is a guilty pleasure, but she is devastated when she is unexpectedly denied the final rites of an initiated priestess. A shocking new future beckons for Princess Nara of the Selgovae…

In the aftermath of civil war across Brigantia, Lorcan of Garrigill’s promotion of King Venutius is fraught with danger. Potential invasion by Roman legions from the south makes an unstable situation even worse. When Lorcan meets the Druid Maran, the future foretold for him is as enthralling as it is horrifying…

Meet Nara and Lorcan before their tumultuous meeting of each other in The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of the acclaimed Celtic Fervour Series.

Lorcan-The Newest Roman Commanders

Later that day, King Venutius stopped abruptly and turned around to face Lorcan. “Did you witness this building of the fort near the western shores?”

“Nay, but I had the news on good authority, during my visit to Cynwrig of the Carvetii,” Lorcan answered.

He had been invited to accompany the king on what Lorcan knew to be a daily inspection of the outer defences of the settlement, but which was probably also an excuse for Venutius to be out of the confines of the King’s Roundhouse for a little while.

He added, “The information came from the Druid Eurwyn who covers the western coastline.”

Venutius harrumphed, his hand gesturing back and forth imperiously to waft away the senior chief who had been plodding alongside him. “Make space for Lorcan of Garrigill to walk next to me.”

The man nearest the king moved away allowing Lorcan to slip forward.

“When did you get this news?” Venutius barked out.

“Close to a half-moon ago.” Lorcan had already learned that the king required answers without delay. He was well-used to cranky old men, since his own father was just as irascible, even before Tully’s decline had set in. “My journey to Stanwick was hampered by snowfall on the western moors.”

He declined to mention the days spent resting and recuperating at Cynwrig’s dwelling.

“Ha!” Venutius’ countenance brightened. “We have had no snow at Stanwick. The weather god favours us more than your Carvetii…friends.”

Lorcan knew what caused the king’s hesitation. The Carvetii tribe were reliable enough associates, though they preferred not to join the main Brigante alliances. He watched the king’s expression drift back to an appraising one.

“Nevertheless, Tully of Garrigill never sends me false information. On the strength of that, I will listen to what else you – Tully’s negotiating son – have to tell me.” King Venutius rattled on, briefly acknowledging the sentries who guarded the outermost gate as they moved through it and veered around the perimeter of the high turf embankment.

In between the many questions King Venutius fired his way as they strode along, Lorcan shared his information.

“Agricola?” Venutius stroked the grizzled grey hair that sloped from upper lip to beneath his wrinkled chin a few times with a thumb and a forefinger before the king came to an unexpected halt.

Lorcan felt the king’s full gaze turn towards him before the king spoke again. “I do not recall that name, yet you say he was a tribune of a Britannic legion some time ago?”

Before Lorcan could reply, he watched Venutius’ upper body swivel. The king stared behind at the elders who walked in his wake, his expression inquiring. When no response came from any of his advisers, Venutius carried on walking.

“I had thought that we may only need to pay great heed to this newest Governor of Britannia, a soldier they name Cerialis, but perhaps there are many more senior Romans we must also monitor,” Venutius said.

Lorcan dared to ask, “Cerialis? That name is new to me.”

The king snorted. “Emperor Vespasian’s doing. He has recently installed a new governor for Britannia, one who will do his bidding without question.”

One of the king’s retinue, clearly a battle-survivor from the scars that adorned him, grunted behind Lorcan. “My hillfort lies on our Brigante border with the Cornovii tribe. I have infiltrators rooting out orders that come from Emperor Vespasian. Though, finding out commands in the names of Cerialis – and this Agricola – will need to have equal importance, now.”

Lorcan walked alongside the king, engrossed in the conversation that rumbled around him. He learned more about the brand-new Governor Cerialis, King Venutius’ aides being well-informed. He wondered how they could come by such information, and be so sure of it being genuine. Mostly, he was highly impressed by their ability to gather the information.

Venutius hawked up thick phlegm and spat it out, his aim well-rehearsed as it landed perfectly onto the grassy bank of the rampart they encircled, the resultant slide of the slippy mess down the turf-blades as sneering as the king’s expression. “Like all the Roman scum I have had dealings with, this man Cerialis has many more names, but two will suffice to mark him.”

Lorcan had only heard of the man referred to as Governor Cerialis and reasoned it had to be the two the king meant, but curiosity made him wonder if he had missed something more interesting.

He was surprised when Venutius asked him why Agricola had become the new Legion Commander of the Legio XX.

“My Carvetii informer mentioned that rumours still circulate about members of the legion continuing to be rebellious,” he explained. “The Legio XX may still have problems with giving allegiance to Emperor Vespasian.”

Venutius’ lips pursed, his head making a series of small abrupt nods. “I would promote someone I trust to rally up the men. That must be the reasoning behind Vespasian giving the command to this Agricola.”

After a few more questions, Lorcan had no further information to give his king. But before his formal dismissal, Venutius’ grey-eyed stare was piercing. “Emperor Vespasian is not like the last three weaklings. Many seasons ago, I recall that Vespasian was in command of a Britannic legion, just like this soldier Agricola. And I also remember that Vespasian was a thoroughly ruthless commander.”

Lorcan did not doubt the king’s judgement. Venutius continued on with further updates on what Vespasian had been doing.

“Vespasian has begun something new in Roman leadership.” A contemptuous heckle spat forth before the king continued. “Lorcan of Garrigill, did you know that Vespasian is not properly high-born?”

Lorcan had not heard this information and was unable to prevent an automatic lift of his eyebrows.

The king rattled on. “This man Vespasian comes from dubious second-class status. And, not being of their Roman Senatorial class, he will have his work cut out to continue to mould and keep the empire under his control.”

Lorcan felt Venutius’ gaze land directly on him.

“If I were Vespasian,” King Venutius suggested, “I would post men in positions of power all over the empire who would give allegiance only to me.”

Venutius suddenly stopped his determined strides. Lorcan felt the king’s concentration on him become even more intense, a glint within it of challenge, yet also of a warped amusement.

“Lorcan of Garrigill, you will find out if this man Agricola’s background is similar to that of Vespasian! You can expect brutality born of ambition, if you discover that he does come from less-elevated stock, since proving loyalty and demonstrating his ability to his emperor will be paramount.”

Lorcan held his breath when Venutius’ attention swivelled around to encompass all of the men who were gathered around the king.

“Whatever Lorcan discovers, we can all be sure that Brigantia is now threatened like never before.”

Much later that night, Lorcan wended his way back to Thoft’s roundhouse, many things rumbling through his head. Venutius was definitely preparing the Brigantes for renewed pitched-battle conflict – but now it was against the forces of the Roman Empire.

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Meet Nancy Jardine

Nancy Jardine lives in the spectacular ‘Castle Country’ of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Her main writing focus has, to date, been historical and time travel fiction set in Roman Britain, though she’s also published contemporary mystery novels with genealogy plots. If not writing, researching (an unending obsession), reading or gardening, her young grandchildren will probably be entertaining her, or she’ll be binge-watching historical films and series made for TV.

She loves signing/ selling her novels at local events and gives author presentations locally across Aberdeenshire. These are generally about her novels or with a focus on Ancient Roman Scotland, presented to groups large and small. Zoom sessions have been an entertaining alternative to presenting face-to-face events during, and since, the Covid 19 pandemic restrictions.

Current memberships are with the Historical Novel Society; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland, Romantic Novelists Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She’s self-published with the author co-operative Ocelot Press.

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