Promo: Before Beltane by Nancy Jardine
I'm thrilled today to share an enticing excerpt from Before Beltane, the new prequel to historical fiction author Nancy Jardine’s fabulous Celtic Fervour series.
Nancy is a good friend of many years, and a fellow author in our publishing cooperative, Ocelot Press. Her knowledge of the Romans in northern Britannia is incredible, and it shows in the books.
Before Beltane is on blog tour with the Coffee Pot Book Club, so make sure to check out all the other posts for more intriguing snippets!
Celtic Fervour Series
Lorcan - An Avenging Warrior
AD 71 Brigante and Carvetii Territorial Border
Lorcan of Garrigill mulled over the events of the previous evening as his horse plodded on towards the river-crossing. The path they travelled was frost-laden. It was brittle and sparkling in places where puddles in the dips had iced over, though a nippy spell around the time of the Festival of Imbolc was fairly predictable.
The visit he had just made to Chief Creik had not been as successful as he had hoped for. The chief had been reasonably hospitable and open-minded, but some of the village tribesmen had shown continued resistance to the latest circumstances that people, the length and breadth of Brigantia, had found themselves in.
“Lorcan of Garrigill! Is this not the finest of mornings?”
Startled by the call, Lorcan whipped up his chin and looked around him, acknowledging that his surveying of the area had been dire. The hailing had come from the line of alders and gnarled willows that lay ahead, close to the ford. Deep suspicion knotted in his gut when he recognised the speaker who stepped free of the trunk and other winter-spindly growth that had conveniently concealed him.
It was one of the more outspoken men around chief Creik’s hearth.
The warrior pointed his spear aloft and shouted again.
“Look above! Ambisagrus smiles upon us. Our weather god is in a playful mood this morning. May the deities grant you a favourable visit at the next roundhouse you journey to.”
In contrast to the scowls and barbs of the night before, the man’s greeting seemed affable, the wide smile appreciative of the pleasant scene around them. Perhaps the tribesman had wakened thinking differently?
Giving the warrior the benefit of the doubt, Lorcan likewise addressed him.
“Aye, indeed, I am looking forward to that.” He indicated the empty sack strapped around the man’s back. “The day is good and clear for spying your prey.”
When Lorcan’s horse drew closer, the warrior’s initial toothy-smile faded and was replaced by a single raised brow.
“You mean that my quarry will be easily seen?” The warrior’s jaw tightened. Pure malice flashed, and the next words spat free of clenched teeth. “You are right about that!”
Lorcan only just glimpsed the man’s handgrip flipping, before the spear hurtled towards him, like a thunderbolt from the god Taranis.
Pure instinct made him force his upper body sidewards, his arm flying up to protect his face. Almost sliding off the horse, it was impossible to avoid the spear completely. The sharpened point sliced along the edge of his palm before the spear careened on to thump the ground behind him. Urging Dubh Srànnal to leap ahead using knee pressure alone, Lorcan grabbed the mane and righted himself.
His attacker had turned tail and was sprinting away. Lorcan yanked his sword free of the metal scabbard that hung from his belt, but in a blink tossed the weapon across to his left hand, the sheer agony of his wound belatedly making its presence felt. His palm felt as slick as a tallow torch brand, blood now flowing freely from it.
In a few horse-strides, he was upon the fleeing figure and with one wide sweep of his blade, he whacked the warrior to the ground. Though not intended to behead, the slice at the shoulder was forceful enough to make the man’s flesh ooze free, and a deep-red stain spread onto the ground.
Leaping off Dubh Srànnal, Lorcan used the flat of his foot to roll his assailant over.
The warrior’s furious glare berated him.
“My spear should have sung more sweetly than that, Lorcan of Garrigill.” Huge gasps came Lorcan’s way as the downed man persisted, attempting to scuttle himself backwards and out of reach using his heels. “The gods must favour you…because my aim is usually known to be infallible.”
The warrior tried to raise himself on his uninjured side, his rant not nearly over. Lorcan kicked hard at the thighs below him, to keep his assailant prone.
More agonised grunts spat Lorcan’s way.
“All supporters of that useless supplanter – Venutius – must be wiped from Brigantia,” the warrior gasped. “Queen Cartimandua is still our ruler.”
“Venutius is useless? You still think this even after all of the explanations that you heard last night about Cartimandua’s duplicity with the usurping Roman Empire?” Lorcan willed his temper to recede. The man below would not have the pleasure of riling him.
The warrior used his elbow to gain height, though managed to lift his body only a tiny bit before an eruption of frustration forced another collapse. The breath almost knocked out of the warrior, Lorcan was surprised when the man’s harangue continued, the facial expressions still venomous under the agony. “Your…persuasive visits to the hamlets around here… must be stopped!”
Thumping his left foot onto the man’s stomach completely stifled a renewed attempt to rise. The resulting noises and pathetic squirms beneath pleased Lorcan greatly, though the continuing conflict of opinions over who now ruled Brigantia created a deep disappointment in him, too.
The flash of the warrior’s small knife, fumbled free from its belt sheath and thrust upwards, was a last frantic attempt from the downed man.
The spear attack was bad enough, but for the warrior to attempt a second wounding? That was beyond reason for Lorcan. The raising of his sword hilt-high above the man’s neck was deliberate, and his words were equally unhurried.
“My death will surely come, warrior of Creik. Nonetheless, it will not be by your hand,” he declared. “Of that, you can be certain.”