Book Title: Before Beltane
Series: Celtic Fervour Series
Author: Nancy Jardine
Publication Date: 29th April 2022
Publisher: Nancy Jardine with Ocelot Press
Page Length: 268 Pages
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.
“Did they have trouble locating you today?” Cearnach’s words held suppressed amusement when she reached him. “Or did you forget where the practice grounds were?”
“No more than usual.” Nara’s reply was equally jocular, knowing that her father had set Cearnach many tasks during the last moon. “And you are as much to blame, as I am, for me not being here.”
“Ha! Will your skills be as rusty as that old bit of iron?” Cearnach joked.
Nara enjoyed sparring words with Cearnach as much as with their swords. “Time will tell, faithless one.”
A degree of affinity had grown between herself and Cearnach, who was only a few seasons older than she was. He had grown up at her father’s hillfort, though it was only recently that he had been given leave to train regularly with her.
“Iola asks that you do not injure me too badly today.” Unsurprisingly, Cearnach did not look in any way contrite when he said it.
Set on a different path in life from most of the women at Tarras, Nara’s role meant no opportunity to indulge in a normal close friendship with another female. She believed she was held in high esteem by some of the women who recognised her skills, though she had no doubt that she was spiritually feared by plenty of others who were in awe of her priestess powers.
Cearnach’s hearth-wife, Iola, was the one exception in the whole hillfort. Iola was naturally friendly, without any loss of deference or respect for Nara’s status. She was comfortable in Iola’s company, and in turn became just as relaxed with Cearnach’s presence, as well.
The warrior’s continued mirth made her suspicious.
“And what have you been doing to merit her asking this of me?” she asked.
“It is more about what your father has been asking me to do: tasks that have been stealing me from her side. So perhaps we had better get out there on the field, or you may find you have no training session at all if Callan requests me again.”
“Ah.” Nara paused till Cearnach moved past some other warriors to access a good space for them.
“And like the elders who keep their mouths locked when I ask what prompts my father’s recent flurry of activity regarding the safety of Tarras, will you be the same?” she asked.
“What I can say is that your father has had me out of the hillfort gaining information more times than my hearth-wife is happy about.”
Nara ensured she had his full concentration. “But this is surely good news. Callan must regard you now as a reliable messenger.”
Sarcasm dripped from Cearnach’s laugh. “That would be progress for me. The truth is that there are plenty of warriors ready to grovel at his feet, but they will do anything to steer clear of dangerous situations. They find ready excuses for them being unable to undertake Callan’s missions. Whereas I can find no credible reasons to avoid his errands.”
Cearnach held his sword ready as she whipped hers free of its scabbard. Talking during a practice session was not easy; however, they continued the conversation in snatches as they circled each other, intent on finding a weak spot to take advantage of.
“Why did he send you to Novantae shores?”
The clang of Cearnach’s blade on hers, parry after parry, sent strong ripples up her arm, even though she knew he was still holding back the bulk of his strength. He had the weight behind him, but she knew her feet were more agile than his.
She changed her foot stance, adjusted her shield angle and stabilised her knees before the next sword strike came her way. She doubled her grip and held firm when their blades clashed, blocking the chance for him to flick aside her weapon.
Cearnach withdrew his blade and readied it again. “Word came that Roman ships had been patrolling around the far tip of the firth.”
Nara had time to digest the words before she could speak again as the attack grew more intense. More moments of sword on sword ensued, and sometimes she managed to block his thrusts with her shield, till her arms ached. They covered some distance within their chosen space. Cearnach’s power behind his blade increased as he tested more of her stamina and expertise. When she was almost at the point of making a mistake Cearnach jumped back from her, retracting his sword.
“Concentrate on the challenge, Nara. Put that fiery dark-red hair of yours to good use and claim the tempestuous nature that usually goes with it. I could have had your arm off with that last swipe.”
She breathed deeply with the exertion, not yet acknowledging his last comment, her head bent, arms braced on her knees and her sword hanging limp at her side. Instead she asked, “Did you find anyone who had actually seen these ships?”
The clanging of iron blades around the field was formidably noisy as the opponents did all they could to win their bout.
Cearnach looked barely winded when she lifted her head.
“Not personally,” he said.
She circled slowly, while she watched him get ready to tackle her again.
“What I heard was from someone who had been told of ship movements by another person.” Cearnach’s voice rose as he raised his sword to swing. “Not the most reliable method of getting information.”
“And that would not be good enough for Callan,” she cried before she whacked Cearnach’s weapon out of reach. “He rarely gives time for reports to get back to Tarras. You will be back out of this hillfort in a blink.”
For a while she prowled around Cearnach, awaiting a best time to lunge, and took opportunities when Cearnach’s shield cover looked fragile. Her head was soon ringing, and she was sweating as though she had just walked out of the Lochan of the Priestesses. For some time she was unable to make any replies while she wielded her sword and used her shield to gain the upper hand, parrying skilfully enough to keep Cearnach at bay, the swords meeting high, low and in between.
“Keep up the foray, Nara!”
The voice from nearby distracted Cearnach just enough for Nara to flip his sword away in one desperate flick, after which her own sword point was close to his chin.
“Not fair play!” Cearnach mumbled to Iola as he held up his hands in defeat. “That was cheating.”
Iola stood waiting for them at the side of the field, her grins as wide as the open cave that lay high on the hillside above the Lochan of the Priestesses. “Nara never cheats. You know that, Cearnach the weak!” Iola’s giggles were irrepressible as she ran off before retribution could come for her remark.
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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Amazon Author Page: http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere