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THE BRON NOVELS
A saga in five parts about Bron, born and brought up in the pagan settlement of Byden towards the end of the Roman occupation.
The novels were inspired by archaeological excavations taking place at Beedon, north of Newbury, on top of the Berkshire downs, and some of the finds have been worked into the story.
Research is much easier these days with the help of Google, which takes away the necessity to visit libraries and bookshops.
I conduct research as I write, because I don't know what information I shall need until then. For Part II, this included spending an afternoon in a blacksmith's forge, where I helped to make an ornamental log poker, of which I am very proud!
As I did not receive an offer of publication from a mainstream publisher for Part I, though some positive comments accompanied rejection letters, I decided to self publish. I have continued to do so, pleased that readers are enjoying the novels and keep asking for more.
The books can also be obtained through the Library service and read online on Kindle. Click here.
Parts I and II
"AD 385 - An April Evening
Alone in the deep gloom of her woodland hut, Umbella took breath then tilted back her head and gulped down the contents of the glass phial.
She waited, licking the blue stain from her cracked lips.
As always, the evil-smelling liquid burnt fire into her tongue and toothless gums. Sitting hunched on the dirty mattress against the mud wall, she loosened the black woollen cloak that was wound round her scrawny old body and tattered clothing, disturbing the cockroaches, which scuttled off across the floor in all directions.
Then came sensuous pleasure as the liquid flowed down the back of her throat, as cold and slippery as silk. She hardly breathed, anticipating the familiar heaviness of limbs as she lay back on the mattress, one high note singing in her ears, her muscles gradually relaxing as she let her mind recede down the long, dark tunnel.
But tonight was different. Perhaps she had mixed too strong a concoction, perhaps drunk too much of it. Suddenly icy cold, she pulled the cloak round her again. Then she was sweating, the perspiration gathering in the wrinkles on her forehead or spilling over into her eyes. Her straggly, grey hair clung to her scalp and her bony hands began to rattle uncontrollably.
She dragged herself to her knees on the mattress, then to her feet on the beaten earth, and stood, her body bent and shaking.
"I'm not ready," she gasped, "not yet! I'm ill!"
But the spirit she had summoned was impatient, would not wait, and sent her crashing to the floor.
As she lay there, her ribs digging painfully into the earth, seeing nothing, she heard the familiar disembodied voice above her, but strident, raised in anger.
"I choose when you are ready, not you!"
She closed her eyes in submission.
"That's better." The voice was now as soft and silky as the liquid that had lubricated the back of her throat. "Listen, and listen well. I will show you what is, and what is to be."
Umbella listened long into the moonless night, appalled as she walked through the carnage wreaked in the Byden settlement, screaming in terror when engulfed in the flames. It took a full hour (or it might have been two or three) before she was able to speak again.
"Can one baby destroy a whole community?" she challenged.
"This baby can, by dredging up the evil in others."
"Will no one prevent it? What if I warned someone - High Priest, Vortin - anyone? They'll take notice of old Umbella. That whelp should not live!" There was no answer. "Then why show me these things?"
"We are in the realms of divining the future, you and I, not changing it. Is it not enough that those in fear pay more than you deserve for the fore sight I give you?"
Now it was Umbella's turn to remain silent as she pondered her hidden hoard of treasure. With such golden radiance glittering nightly beneath her torch's flame, what need had she of sunlight?
"Exactly." The spirit, as always, had read her thoughts.
"But I will not live to see the destruction?" she asked, relief evident in her voice.
"You will not live to see it."
"And the manner of my death? You hid that vision in mist."
She lay very still, waiting for the answer.
At last the spirit spoke again.
"It is better that you do not know how or when. I have spared you that."
Umbella felt a cold tide creeping up through her body from the floor. It was the damp night air, she convinced herself, and not her terror.
"Will I die alone?"
"Far from it."
"So there will be someone to tell others of my passing?"
"The birds shall bear news to the settlement. Now no more questions! I have shown you all there is. I am leaving and it is time for you to sleep."
Umbella was not surprised to find she was lying on her mattress again. Except for the busy cockroaches, the hut was empty and silent and she knew the spirit had left her.
She would sleep well now but determined to wake early, as curiosity would impel her to take the several hours' walk to Byden wood to confront the mother of this abhorrent baby.
Her dreams were invaded by flocks of starlings winging their way up through the canopy, through branches and leaves that kept the sunlight out of her clearing.
In reality, only a solitary black bat circled the roof of her hut."
"Pulcher had decided long ago that nothing in this life or the next could even remotely approach the ecstasy of watching Bron bathing.
He gazed and worshipped as she paddled about in the cold flow of the Stan, envying the clear water that splashed her honey-coloured skin, the droplets cooling the hills and valleys of her young body.
She crouched, as smooth and rounded as the pebble she was choosing, then stood and stretched to hold it against the sunlight, with very little hidden from his view and left to his imagination.
He would have been alarmed and she less playful if they had been aware that two pairs of dark eyes were violating her privacy and relishing every movement of her naked body.
Climbing the low bank, she reached for her towel, rubbed herself and her thick, black curls dry on its rough weave, and quickly dressed.
A cock pheasant flapped noisily from its cover, raucously protesting at being disturbed by the breeze that rustled through the bramble bushes.
He saw Bron jump and look nervously around. She would be checking to make sure that Vortin was not concealed nearby and seeking comfort from the sight of his own dwarfish figure on the opposite bank. She knew that he would never allow the High Priest anywhere near her, although at that moment his eyes were modestly averted and directed up the hill towards the settlement.
When his gaze was lured back, she was shaking her curls dry.
About to return by way of the stepping stones, Bron still looked uncertain. Whatever it was she then heard caused her to spin around in alarm. Suddenly, two young Roman legionaries sprang up from the tall grasses edging the stream. As she turned to flee, shouting desperately for help, one threw his arms around her, encircling her waist, while the other clamped a hand over her mouth.
Hobbling up the hill towards the market, all the while cursing his deformed legs for their lack of speed, Pulcher began screaming for help for the girl he loved more than life itself.
When he reached the first houses, he looked back. Bron was still grappling with her kidnappers, struggling and kicking, but in spite of her spirited resistance, they found no difficulty in tossing her up on to the saddle of one of their horses, which must have been tethered out of sight in the trees.
When he looked again, they were galloping south-eastwards, in the direction of Calleva Atrebatum."
AD 406 Fleeing from the conflagration in Byden, Bron and her family arrive on the south coast and board the Juniper for the long sea passage to Ostia, closely pursued by High Priest Vortin. Her only wish is to follow in the wake of the troop ship carrying her young lover, officer Aurelius Catus, and his legion back to Rome.
She is befriended by the captain of the Juniper, who seeks to protect her from his unscrupulous bo'sun. Bron, however, is unprepared for the effect the seaman has on her and the dire consequences of their actions.
And no one on board is prepared for the terrifying conclusion to their voyage.
The excitement and pace never falter as Bron sails on to fulfill her destiny in Rome.
"There was nothing more to say or do then but wait for the impact. A hush descended on deck. All that could be heard was the rhythmical boom! boom! of the rowing drum, faster now than before.
Veneta was mouthing a prayer as they clung to each other and to the rail and its stanchions, anticipating the moment of collision.
It took longer than they expected. As they watched, the high, curved stem post of the attacking ship loomed larger and larger, its plumed carving towering above the decks of both ships. Suddenly, there was crash after crash and the sounds of splintering wood as two sets of oars converged and interlocked and were woven together or sheared off and riven into thousands of lethally-pointed stakes and spars.
The plight of the men on the other end of those oars was only too obvious from the high-pitched screams from below both decks.
The Juniper shuddered as the pirate ship continued to advance and then the hulls collided, the forward momentum carrying the locked ships a further length before both came to rest. At least, by the slight alteration of course, the ram had not pierced their hull as intended.
The children were thrown to the deck on impact, Bron and the babies on top of them. They scrambled to their feet, too terrified to cry now. Amid all the commotion, the warning was relayed around the ship, " Prepare to be boarded!"
There was just as much noise from the pirate ship as her crew whooped and catcalled while crowding at her rail or swarming up the rigging of her foremast, brandishing weapons in one or both hands or with knives and daggers clenched in their teeth as they clung to precarious perches. Their features and skin colouring betrayed men from every province in the empire and beyond and Bron shrank back at the sight of this near-naked baying, howling enemy."
Bron, Part IV
Click here to buy (Kindle edition)
Bron is now working in Rome but falls foul of her employers, a senator and his wife, and is unjustly dismissed. She then becomes entangled in blackmail, murder and an execution. Having met the emperor at the chariot races, she believes that he is the only person who can help her retrieve her two most precious possessions. But she cannot solve his problem, and when Rome is threatened by pagan incursions, decides to take her family home to Byden. First, though, she must find Aurelius Catus, whose legion is fighting in Illyricum, and try to persuade him to go back to Britannia with her.
"The teams returned to the starting stalls and lined up ready, now in silent concentration, and the whole stadium quietened. After the raucous adulation, the hush was eerie, ominous, and Bron shivered.
The starter raised his flag, his arm fell, the race began and the crowd resumed its enthusiastic cacophony.
There followed the fiercest and most frenzied, bad-tempered and vicious spectacle of the day. Each man was out to win, no matter at what cost to his fellow competitors. The final result was in doubt as first one team and then another took the leading position and was jostled or slammed out of the way. At these times, it was purely the skill of the charioteers that kept the horses on their feet and their chariots upright even when bouncing along on two wheels.
As the race progressed, the horses began to tire and the men seemed more vulnerable to misjudgement. At the start of the final lap, the crowd was emotionally drained and their shouts died away. All that could be heard above the cries of damaged men and squeals of injured animals were the vitriolic curses of the remaining drivers, the crash of their colliding chariots and the pounding hooves of horses still in the race.
Red team won. For a few moments there was no recognition from the silent spectators, then a few people started clapping and soon the whole stadium was on its feet and applauding.
Bron, however, felt physically sick. She blinked, rubbed her eyes and blinked again, but could not shift the red mist through which she was seeing everything.
The winning charioteer swaggered across to the royal box, waving his scarlet scarf above his head, then arrogantly proffered it to the Emperor, who accepted it and draped it round his own neck. Four other competitors followed. A sixth was on his knees, trying to rise."
In which Bron brings her family and friends home to a newly-built Bedon.
This scene takes place after a battle between the Roman legionaries and the pagans:
She ran on and on now, lost and confused, and it was getting dark. This was hell like she had never imagined.
"Hey, you girl!"
Was someone calling her? She looked around.
" Yes, you! Come over here! Here! Youíre needed here!"
Her body responded without any comprehension of mind as she crossed to where an army surgeon was kneeling in the mud beside a seemingly lifeless body of a legionary.
"Press here." He indicated the spot. " Use your fist. Press hard. Harder! Iím going to tie this leather strap round and try to save his leg then Iím going to cauterise the wound. Good. Now go and find me a torch."
"You know what a torch is, donít you? Donít come back without one."
Bron turned away. Donít come back without one or with one, her instinct was telling her, but then she thought of the legionary, and her conscious self fought back and she flew off to intercept a torch bearer.
They were coming on to the plateau in increasing numbers Ė soldiers looking for comrades and women searching for their men, others to give aid where they could, and some lighting the way for the litter bearers.
Bron approached a legionary with a flaming torch and stammered out her mission explicitly enough for him to follow her.
She panicked when trying to retrace her steps and failing, but then heard the surgeon calling her and was greatly relieved to see him in the dusk, not far from where they stood.
He had tightened the strap round the legionaryís thigh and the heavy bleeding from the wound had stopped.
"Talk to him," the surgeon ordered. " Hold his hand. Hold it tight."
Bron did as she was told. The surgeon was talking in whispers to the soldier.
"Itíll be all right." Bron didnít know what else to say to the young man whose hand she was clutching. " The surgeon will be able to see now what heís doing. The bleedingís stopping. Whatís your name?"
He told her and asked her name and she told him. The conversation lulled and she looked at the surgeon.
"Keep talking," he instructed her and she turned back to the soldier.
"Where do you come from? Have you any family?" she asked and he was telling her about his children and their mother when he let out a scream that would have awakened all the demons in the underworld if there were any left there and they werenít all here on the battlefield.
Bron turned her head towards the surgeon and was horrified to see him holding the young soldierís severed lower leg in his hands and the torch bearer thrusting the flame into the bloodied stump.
Her vision blurred, there was a high-pitched note ringing in her ears and she thought she was going to faint, when the hand she was clutching became limp.
"Heís passed out," she choked.
"Best thing that could happen to him," the surgeon said, then instructed the soldier with the torch to stay with the young man and tell any bearers who came along to carry him back to camp.
"You come with me," he said to Bron. " By the way, whatís your name?"
They spent a night she was never able to talk about afterwards and by morning she was dirty, muddy, covered in blood, she smelt rancid because she had been sick all down her tunic, and was exhausted. The surgeon looked down at her as she cradled a cavalry officer in her arms.
"Thereís nothing more we can do for him, Bron," he said kindly. " Come, let me help you up. Youíve had enough. Go back to camp and get some rest."
© 2006 Iris Lloyd
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