Before Beltane

Nara - A New Future Beckons

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.

Book Excerpt or Article

Inside the roundhouse Nara halted at the doorway. She lifted her chin and faced her father, who sat in his usual place at the far end of the firestones. Though it cost her dearly, she held her tongue and waited for him to speak.

Callan took his time, while the elder entered the room behind her and walked up towards him. On the elder’s heels, Cearnach came in, but remained alongside her.

A hushed conversation took place between the chief and his elder, too low for Nara to hear properly.

Callan then deigned to direct his words her way. “I am told you have been very resourceful since your return to Tarras. You have been out of the hillfort every day, though you have always come back.”

Nara almost laughed. Was her father attempting to converse nicely?

“Did you expect me to run away?” She refused to soften her tone.

“I did not!” Callan’s words became more shrill.

Nara decided there was nothing to lose. “Did you expect me to beg you for help?”

Her father’s harrumphing reached all the way down the long fireside.

She found she could not leave it at that. “Do you expect me to beg right now?” It was with great difficulty that she maintained her dignity.

Callan’s arm waving was imperious. ”Come closer. We do not need the whole of Tarras to hear us.”

Nara padded forward, wariness sitting on her shoulder. Callan generally wanted everyone to hear what he had to say.

“That will be far enough.” Callan’s upraised palm was a deterrent to coming any closer, though the man took his time to speak.

She still stood well short of him and idly wondered if her father was worried she was about launch an attack on him. On thinking about it, she decided that the idea had merit, but taking the old man’s life in such a way would not give her sufficient satisfaction. Slow and painful would be better retribution. But they were unworthy thoughts – she was sure the goddess Dôn would not approve.

“They tell me you have been persistent in asking to train with that highly-valued warrior behind you.”

To say she was surprised at the way the conversation was turning did not do it justice.

“I would like to do weapon training again with Cearnach, but I hear that you have many tasks for him outside of the hillfort.” She maintained his stare, actually finding it easier than she expected. Her blood was roiling inside her, but her father did not need to know that. “Perhaps Cearnach is too busy to help me sharpen my sword skills?”

The jut of Callan’s jaw and the lip-curl told her just how much he was reining in his temper.

The elder leaned closer to the chief and whispered. “The horse.”

Callan’s cheeks tightened as if it was difficult for him to speak. “I remember. I am coming to that.”

She watched her father turn to face his elder, his expression more reconciled than aggressive towards the old man at his side, though his next terse words belied it. “You may go, your duty is done for now.”

As the elder stepped past her to leave the room, Nara noted the small smile of satisfaction on his face.

“You have pestered the horse handlers every day about riding the filly.” Callan’s word drew her attention back to him.

Again, Nara almost laughed. Her father’s comments were succinct, wrenched out of him, whereas he generally like to bluster.

“Aye. I have missed riding her.”

Callan snorted, and peered down the room. Without turning round, Nara guessed the elder had just gone through the entrance tunnel. Callan impatiently waved his arm at her, a very wide gesture of dismissal. “Move right back near the door. I need to talk to Cearnach.”

Her father broke eye contact with her to look directly at Cearnach, who stepped up the room and took her place closer to the chief.

Standing back down near the door, Nara was quite amused that Callan had actually had her so close to his presence for even a few moments of discourse.

“I need to send you on another errand outside the hillfort. Are you willing to have this…” Callan’s words hesitated, dripping with disdain. “…so-called daughter of mine accompany you?”

It was obvious to Nara that Callan had omitted the word failed, or something of that nature. The man’s expression was wreathed with his usual contempt for her.

Cearnach, she was pleased to see, did not hesitate.

“I will be honoured to ride out with Princess Nara any time you wish.”

Callan’s head nodded, a sneer curling his lips. “Then you are a more magnanimous warrior than most others around here.”

Nara stood there waiting, once again put aside as Callan described what he wanted Cearnach to do.

“You want me to take the big chestnut stallion?” Cearnach asked.

“Aye, that one.” Callan said. “It is a Roman horse, a much taller and sleeker breed than our own.”

Nara barely listened as Callan went on to brag to Cearnach about which chief from the south had sent him the horse. There was no brevity in his expansive boasting when talking to his warrior.

Nara watched Cearnach’s nod of agreement, though she could not see his facial expressions.

“And you believe that Rigg of Raeden Hillfort has a mare that may be of a similar breed?” she heard Cearnach ask.

Nara’s thoughts drifted. Was Callan actually going to let her ride away from the hillfort, on Eachna, to do something useful for the tribe? An unaccustomed thrill started deep inside her, and was very difficult to control. She felt her lips widening. But even though she was partly obscured by Cearnach’s bulk, she refused to show Callan her pleasure.

“Aye. I know it could be dangerous.” Callan was answering, but she only half-listened. “If Roman ships have landed on any part of my coastline, or even further south on the opposite side of the firth on Carvetii sands, their marauding Roman soldiers could be anywhere now.”

“Is sending Princess Nara not too dangerous?” Cearnach’s question was circumspect.

Callan’s nasty laugh jolted Nara from her wanderings.

“Nay, not at all.” Her father’s smile was dismissive.

To her surprise, Callan beckoned Cearnach to lean in even closer, his words becoming more indistinct. Her father was not whispering, far from it, but was secretive. Though she was not intended to hear the next words, she did.

“At the first signs of Roman trouble, you will abandon her and get yourself to safety,” Callan ordered. “Do not put your life at risk. I need you for many more tasks.”

“But…” Cearnach got no further, his words cut off by Callan’s aggressive tones.

“If she dies it will make no difference to me – her life is entirely expendable. The task I send you on is not an important one, but it will appease the elders who constantly harass me to do something more about her status.”

Nara felt the silence in the room deafening.
(1184)

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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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