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by Cornelia Amiri
Description: Blurb: She carried the seed of rebirth, so what had fallen would rise again. The ghost of her ancestor sent Druidess Tanwen from Britannia to the strange foreign tribe of the Caledonii to wed Brude, son of the chief. But Brude is not about to marry a druidess, even though she has the most beautiful body he's ever seen. Never mind if his blood boils and he can't stop thinking of her. He will not wed her. Yet the fate of Caledonia rests in the hands of the Warrior and the Druidess. Will they put their differences aside to fulfill their destiny? Excerpt: Tanwen walked through the wheat field. Half willow tree, half fey was the only description that fit. Tall but lithe, her red hair waving in the wind, streaming down her slender body. Her skin was still pale blue from the woad, giving her the appearance of an enchantress, summoned from the other world to bless the crops. Everyone gazed at her as she walked forward and halted at a stalk. She plucked an ear of wheat and rolled the grain between her finger and thumb as Lossio had done. "It is plump and yielding." She stared at Brude with an intense gaze that set his insides on fire. "Yes, it is time." A cheer went up from everyone, but Brude was captured by her gaze and couldn't look away. He didn't want to. He wanted to step forward, scoop her up into his arms, and carry her off to his bed. By the gods, the druidess had enchanted him. He did not say a word to Tanwen, nor she to him, but she turned her head and flipped her red hair across her back as she walked off.
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Eternal Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: June 2010
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [252 KB]
Reading time: 166-233 min.
The empty eye sockets of the white, weathered skull peered at Tanwen from the timber gate. She turned to the druid couple, Rhys and Sulwen. "I accept my destiny."
Rhys nodded his gray head. "But we do not send you alone. These brave Silure warriors shall guard you well, at all times." He pointed his gnarled hand to a short, muscular woman with spirals of blue woad painted on her face. "Huctia, take care of her." Then, he gestured to a man with the swarthy skin and curly black hair of the Silure tribe. "Gethin, guard her well."
The two warriors bobbed their dark heads.
"It pains me, too," Druidess Sulwen's wrinkled hand patted Tanwen's shoulder in comfort, "to see you go."
Tanwen's copper hair whipped her face as her gold-speckled and white cloak flapped loudly in the wind. She flung her arms around Sulwen's shoulders and squeezed tight. "I will never see you, again."
When Tanwen pulled back, Sulwen said, "We will miss you greatly, but your destiny awaits." Her eyes were moist with tears.
Rhys's gnarled fingers curled around Tanwen's smooth hands. "Your future lies elsewhere, in Caledonia. Tanwen ferch Wena ferch Boudica, child of sacred fire, the gods are with you. Elen of the Ways will guard your path on your quest, and we send our finest warriors to aid you."
"I am ready." Tanwen lifted the skirts of her blue novice robe and druid cloak as she headed down the steep rock path, putting space between her and the Silure hill fort.
All the way to the shore, she heard the footsteps of her two warriors close behind. Tanwen took a deep breath and stepped into the small, ox hide boat, as did Huctia and Gethin.
"We shall travel down the coast and walk the rest of the way to the Caledonii village." Gethin rowed, focusing his gaze on Tanwen. "Druidess, do you go to Caledonia to gain allies to battle the Romans?"
The hope she saw in his eyes hurt, because her words would crush it. "No, the battle here is over. If we keep fighting, there will be no Celts left in Britannia."
"Now that Romans have taken the land of the southern Caledonian tribes, a new battle begins." Huctia drew back on the wooden oar, then pushed forward.
"Druidess, if there is any tribe who can keep their land free of the Romans, it is the Caledonii. Chief Calach is as brave and strong a warrior as Boudica herself," Gethin said with a firm set of his chin.
Tanwen smiled back. "You believe Calach can halt the Romans?"
"I do." A spark of conviction gleamed in Gethin's brown eyes.
Tanwen clasped her knees to her chest as the small boat gently rocked back and forth. "I go to Caledonia to wed Calach's son." She swallowed, then added, "The spirit of Boudica declared this my destiny."
Neither of the guards questioned this, as they both spoke to their ancestors daily.
Gethin nodded. "It is good. As a druidess, you will be welcomed there."
Huctia leaned closer to Tanwen. "What type of man is Calach's son?"
Images sped through her mind. One of a young, tall, muscular man with a generous mouth, a straight nose, and long, auburn hair. Next, she envisioned a short, pudgy man with kind eyes and a humorously bulbous nose. She then imagined a small-boned man of medium height with a sensitive face and dark hair. Suddenly that image faded, and she thought of a big and powerful man who towered over everyone. "I know not."
"You know nothing of him?" Gethin's brow furrowed.
"I've been told little." Her body had vibrated with energy she couldn't contain when her grandmother's spirit had appeared to her in the Cave of Draigs. Eye to eye with the ghost of the warrior queen, Tanwen had accepted her destiny...to wed Calach's son. "He has not been told of me at all."
"Only that he is to wed you?" Gethin pulled out a leather bag of grain cakes and an ale skin.
A jolt of hunger shot through Tanwen at the biting scent of ale and the homey aroma of oat cakes. "Boudica sends me to wed him. There is no betrothal agreement. Neither he nor his father know I am coming. Nor that I wish to marry him."
Gethin's eyes grew wide. "This will be a surprise, then." Gethin handed an oat cake to Tanwen.
"Yes." This is madness, she thought. What if Calach's son is already wed? "I must heed the wisdom of my ancestors. Boudica would not send me to wed him if it was not to be." Her stomach churned. She swayed with the rocking of the tiny boat.
"This is so." Huctia bobbed her dark head.
"Well, they will know soon enough," Gethin added. "Any man would want to wed you. As far as Calach's son, all I know of him is he is a fierce warrior. All the Caledonii are."
Huctia cocked her head. "And of the Caledonii, I know the oldest of the gods are with them."
Tanwen no longer had an appetite for the oat cake, and handed it to Huctia. "We may need that ancient power to keep the Romans out of Caledonia."
Gethin agreed and took a swig from the ale skin before passing it to Tanwen.
As the druidess gulped from the leather bag, the warm, soothing brew ran down her throat. Though the salty, fishy smell of the sea assailed her nostrils, she grew calmer with the sway of the boat. Her clenched stomach began to relax.
Soon, moonlight glistened on the water. As the oval boat bobbed on the ocean like a walnut floating in a puddle, her mind swayed to and fro. Drowsy and eyes heavy, she drifted to sleep and nodded off for moments at a time, only to awake with a start and causing the boat to jerk. When she awoke fully, she gazed up at a rock-strewn coast. They'd come to shore.
Gethin scanned the area as if he expected trouble.
Tanwen climbed out of the coracle. "Is something amiss?"
"No," Huctia whispered as she shook her head. "But Picts are the best of warriors and silent in their movements. I sense them watching us."
"Once they find out who you are and why you're here, they will not harm you," Gethin said softly, as he offered a slight smile.
Alarms sounded in Tanwen's head. Sand crunched beneath her feet as she followed Huctia and Gethin across the shore and onto a well-worn path into the forest, where she trod on grass and twigs. Loud grunts and yells assaulted her ears as a charging beast and warriors headed straight toward them. She barely managed to jump out of the way of a raging, sharp-tusked boar.
A warrior burst out of the woods with more fierceness than the wild beast. He leapt like a deer. Beneath his short tunic, his long, lean, bare legs raced at the speed of a bird in flight. He pulled to a halt with the flexibility of a leather thong, bent back and then leaned forward to launch a long, black spear. The weapon soared through the air, struck hard, and impaled the beast. The boar's high-pitched squeal tore through the forest air as it twitched in its death throes.
Tanwen nodded toward the warrior and his prize. "Good throw."
"My lady." Danger shone in his alluring grin and the gleam of his eyes. "Do I know you?" Over his tunic, he wore a black cowl that fell to the elbows, leaving his forearms bare but for the blue tattoos of beasts pricked onto his skin in the way of the Picts.
"No." The air crackled around him with masculine energy. Tanwen's breath caught in her throat. "I am from the Silure village on Eryri."
"With the Romans afoot, few druids dwell in Britannia." He stepped toward her.
Flames of fire licked the inside of her body as her gaze drank in the features of his evenly proportioned face and his hair, thick from lime wash and spiked like a hedgehog's, with strands ranging from dark brown to a golden hue. A fire ignited in her belly.
"It is a long journey, with naught but two warriors for an escort." He spoke in a melodic voice, sweet yet strong, like a bard and a war leader fused into one. "Why do you seek the Caledonii?"
Her gaze leapt to his bright eyes. "I fulfill a quest. I have come to speak with the son of Chief Calach."
He stared at her, open-mouthed. "The son of Calach?" His eyebrows arched. "Do you mean Brude?"
She became uncomfortable. "Yes, if he is the elder."
"What do you want with Brude?"
She wouldn't let this stunning warrior's intense gaze unnerve her. Tanwen wasn't about to tell him she was wandering around the wilds of Caledonia to make her own match for a husband. It wasn't her idea, anyway. Boudica had called her to this destiny, and it was none of this warrior's business. "It is a private matter."
"In truth?" He stepped forward without taking his eyes off her, as if he enjoyed looking at her as much as she did him.
But she was here for Calach's son, not a mere warrior. Her destiny had been chosen. The gods had decided her fate.
"How intriguing." His ample lips opened to a smile, revealing an even row of white teeth.
"Yes." It was hard to remember she had come for Brude as she gaped at the chiseled face of this man, with a high forehead, firm chin, and eyes like sacred pools that opened to the otherworld.
"Calach is my chief."
"Then you must know Brude, as well?"
He chuckled. "You could say that."
"Good, you may introduce me to him." She was lost in his deep eyes, holding magic. Fire.
"I can." His eyes narrowed and his voice grew softer, near to a whisper. "If I know who you are?"
His breath blew against her neck and left her skin tingling. "Oh, I am Tanwen ferch Wena ferch Boudica of two extinct tribes, the Iceni and the Ordovices."
"Boudica." His gaze was steady as he apprised her. "Granddaughter of the rebel queen, you are welcome in Caledonia." He cupped her shoulders warmly. "Come, I'll show you the Caledonii village."
Gethin and Huctia walked at their heels as the other hunters followed, carrying the dead boar on the warrior's wide shield.
As the path led out of the forest and into open farmland, she passed fields of wheat, rye, and barley. She gazed ahead at the capital of the Caledonii, the place that would be her home for the remainder of her days once she wed Brude. She wondered what he looked like, as her eyes scanned the village set along the banks of the river Tay. Stepping under the wide gateway, her gaze chased a group of gold-torqued youths racing chariots.
She kept pace with the boar hunter as he moved with sure steps across the earth, as if he was king over it, giving off strength and confidence. Tanwen passed the blacksmith hut, the horse corral, granaries, and the stables. They came to rows of wheelhouses, built of circular walls of tightly stacked stones and heather thatched roofs. Barking dogs and barefoot children in short tunics darted up to her as she followed this man through a village larger than the Ordovices and Silure hill forts put together. There was no bounce or sway in his walk as he led her past at least thirty circular homes on his way to the tallest and largest wheelhouse.
Tanwen crossed the stone floor to the amber blaze dancing around a black cauldron, which hung over the hearth. She glanced at a large, rectangular shield mounted on the wall.
A man, sitting on a pile of lush furs near the fire, addressed his spearmen. Dressed in a short sleeve tunic, his legs were bare and gold rings adorned each of his toes. The tattoos covering his arms and legs were similar to the sacred images engraved on the long stones which stood all over Caledonia. The largest swirl began small and curved into a larger loop, with a little one for wings, and long, thin lines as legs. So his patron goddess was Corra--the crane goddess--which revealed his closeness to the otherworld and his gift of prophecy.
She shifted her gaze to the next tattoo: two connected circles, like two wheels, and she counted five knotted swirls within each. From the image of a four-legged animal with a prominent tail and a narrow head (a wolf), she knew his last five ancestors were all cousins who married each other. So, he was fifth generation of that bloodline, which began with his great-great-great-great-grandmother from the house of Wolves.
The gold torque banding his neck gleamed in the firelight. "Welcome to my village. I am Calach, Chief of the Caledonii." His long hair, streaked with gray, matched his pointed beard. "But, do not tell me who you are, nor why you are here, until you have eaten. A banquet of roasted boar awaits in the feasting hall."
The two Silure guards followed her to the rectangular, wooden hall. There, she sat on a lush fox fur at a small wooden table. A pang of hunger came over her as she was served warm, fresh bread, chewy boiled beef from the cauldron, and a juicy joint of roasted boar. After eating her fill, she washed it down with a cup full of thick mead.
Then, along with Huctia and Gethin, she went back to the wheelhouse and nodded to the chief as she entered. "I am Tanwen ferch Wena ferch Boudica, and I have traveled far, from the snow-topped peaks of the grandmother mountain of Eryri."
"Greetings. We of the Caledonii know of Boudica and have long mourned her passing."
"My thanks, Chief Calach."
"Sit," Calach said.
"You know of my grandmother?" The druidess sat down in front of Calach. "I am here at her urging."
Her guards sat down beside her.
Briskly, the chief gestured to his spearmen to leave. Only Tanwen, Gethin, Huctia, and the Caledonii chief remained.
The chief leaned his broad body toward Tanwen. "What message does Boudica send from the otherworld?"
She kept her gaze locked on Calach. "My ancestor, Boudica, foresees you will stop the Romans from coming north, but only by uniting the tribes into one army."
"It is good. I have given some thought to this idea based on Boudica's army of mixed Cymru tribes." He took a swig of mead. "And so you come to aid us with your grandmother's blessings and your druid gifts?"
She took a deep breath. This still didn't make sense to her, but she had to do as her ancestor bade. "My grandmother sent me to marry your son and keep her bloodline alive. Somehow, this will thwart the Romans."
Calach's brows arched. "In truth."
"This is what Boudica bids." Tanwen shrugged her shoulders. "I must do as she wills."
"You may deem you need to marry Brude, but I know not how he will take the news." His mouth quirked, as if he tried to stifle a laugh. "His ancestors have not bid him to wed you, yet, I will speak to him."
"My thanks for your kindness and hospitality."
Calach nodded. "Did you enjoy the wild boar you feasted on? Brude brought one like it back from his hunt to feast on tomorrow. You were with him, I believe." His eyes twinkled.
Brude? He was the warrior who made her blood boil? She was sure her eyes were as large as apples. "By the Goddess."
Calach called the spearmen back and commanded them to show her, Huctia, and Gethin to a small wheelhouse that would be hers as long as she stayed with the Caledonii.