Caledonia AD84 - When Eirbrin meets Antony she believes she has found a mystic, a man of power who can help her to overcome old guilt and shame.
He is a spy, and everything about him should warn Brin of his deception, but her longing to atone and her growing desire for him allow her to deny any doubts she has.
To him, she should be no more than a valuable source of information. But as they move through Caledonia toward the gathering battle of Mons Graupius, they fall into an impossible relationship. Both of them should know better.
Ridge Forts, Caledonia, Autumn AD83
Motes danced in the rising heat of the fire and fled into thatched shadows high above. Mania shone from the skin and wide eyes of the gathered band of strangers, throwing firelight back across the room and filling the air with the rank odour of cold sweat and apprehension.
Calgacus knelt, sitting back onto his feet, and held the attention of everyone in the room with the quiet assurance of a man who had the courage to meet their convictions. “What hope do they have?” he asked. “We have the numbers, the heart and the balls.” A snigger ran through the assembly and there was a general nod as the truth of his words was acknowledged.
“The Ninth Legion! Britons have bested them before today. They’ve slunk back behind their walls and trenches. Rome has divided her numbers and spread herself too thin. And worse, they’ve considered us as weak as they are themselves. They’ve believed we have no heart to face the chill of our winter because they have none.”
Again a low murmur of agreement swept through the room and he slowly turned his head, scanning each face, meeting each eye. “They cling to the warmth of the coastal lowlands. They fear the wilds of our mountains and forests, but these are home to us and the spirits of our fathers and the blood of our ancestors are already on this land. The wilds of our island hold no such fears for us. We cannot help but be victorious tonight.”
Brinnie pulled her attention from the leader and watched the mug she filled froth and spill over. There was no doubting him. There was sense in every word.
The men who’d gathered under this roof had come from far and wide and with each of them, a band of followers. They had no kin ties and no common land, only hatred of Rome, the invaders who would enslave them all. Talk had come down with them of the fleet of great vessels that had surveyed the shores and carried the might and terror of empire as far as her own mother’s lands, as far as Craig Phadrig itself.
Against the wall, by the curtained doorway, her husband crouched, his eyes afire with the need upon them. His face was set in a mask of calm that lay between courage and acceptance, and in it she read his mortality.
The time for fear and caution had passed. Men from all over the Caledonian mountains had rallied to the call of a leader, and the clans had one purpose: to fight or die for their freedom. And tonight would be the beginning of the end for their foe. The Romans who slept in the glen below would die with the knowledge that this was a land they would never own.
Around her the noise of assent was rising as the leader roused the men with stirring words. Restlessness was churning in the flesh that packed in around the fire, and she had to concentrate on the next mug before her as it swished and waved, lifting her jug back to keep from spilling ale over the packed earth of the floor.
“So to it.” The cry was sharp and she turned again to face the charismatic figure who held them all in his hand. “Tonight we have a full third of their number lying drunk with their necks extended. Those who want to sit with the old and the infirm; those who want to hide beneath the beds of their children; those who want to live to tell the story as if it was their own, stay behind. Those who want to rush their blood to the glory of our homeland, rally now. Now the time is right.”