Morning, folks! 🙂 Hope your weekend is treating you well so far. Today I’ve got a wee snippet (the first chapter, actually) from Daughters Of Brigitania, the historical fiction I’m writing under my pen-name, Kathryn Northwood. Enjoy! 😀
Two girls stood aside from the crowd, frozen expressions as they watched the druids chanting over the barrow. An old man lay within, curled in the position he entered the earth, his chariot beside him.
The older girl wrapped her arm around her younger sister, but her green eyes never lost their cold edge. The younger girl gave a sniff, but silenced herself as she remembered her place, and gave a short nod to her older sister. The arm fell away. A strong wind whipped through the valley, picking up their woollen cloaks and tugging them, creating the effect of flags flying out under their plaited auburn hair.
The druids and priestesses moved in a wide circle, chanting and murmuring to the gods, one of them holding a torch aloft. The flames from the torch flickered and danced in the wind, creating brilliant patterns in the air above as sparks jumped away. Some of the crowd behind the girls fell to their knees at the sight, sobbing as though their hearts would break. The older girl peered over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow, casting them a hard look.
The King was dead.
“Carti…does this mean you are now Queen?”
The whispered question from her sibling surprised Cartimandua. It was hardly the time for discussing such matters, but she understood that her sister Aiia was young, and didn’t always know when not to voice such concerns. She didn’t answer, but pressed a finger to her lips instead, indicating silence. A thrill ran through her at the idea though. Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes. I am now ruler of all northern Albion. The only thing that didn’t thrill her was the notion of her husband being King, even Prince Regent. An ugly frown darkened her face.
Their father, King Vecorigo, had wanted the marriage to go ahead to secure more lands for his daughter. The Brigantes were a tribe of hardened warriors, but years of trying to secure their lands against other tribes had decimated their coin and defences, and this was her only chance to have security. Her husband was at least ten years her senior, and he had already blessed her with child. Unbidden, her hand stroked across the bulge of her stomach, swollen with her son.
And who knows what will happen to Aiia now. I must make sure I protect her. Cartimandua’s eyes roved across to her thirteen-year old half-sister, taking in her drawn white face and tightly folded arms. Aiia had even less prospects than herself, as the illegitimate child of one of her father’s concubines. Cartimandua’s own mother had died in childbirth, so she had never known the loving touch of a matronly hand. Aiia’s mother had come by court many times, but only ever lavished attention on her own daughter. Cartimandua didn’t resent it, she felt just as close to Aiia herself, and the two had been true sisters as soon as they could utter words.
The chanting grew louder, and one of the druids stepped forward to usher the two sisters over to their father’s grave. Cartimandua gave the white-hooded man a curt gesture, and waved him away. He stepped back, and Aiia gripped her sister’s arm tightly as they made their way over. The trees around them twisted harder in the wind, sending leaves spinning down to cover the King in his final rest. The man the Brigantes had known looked so different in rest, so less forceful. He had been a well-respected King, despite the losses to other tribes, and his booming voice would be remembered by all as though it had spoken in their very ears. He lay in a foetal position, his body wrapped in a blue cloak, his head adorned with the gold band of his authority. It wasn’t until he had been laid in the barrow that the sisters had finally realised how old and frail he looked, with his grey moustache thinning across his lip.
Cartimandua thrust her arm out, dropping a richly-inlaid bridle bit into the barrow. She gave Aiia a nudge, and her sister tremblingly held out a bronze dagger, glinting in the weak evening sunlight as it fell in. Aiia leaned over to gaze at her father, whispering, “May the gods watch over your journey to the Otherworld.”
Cartimandua gave a sad smile at Aiia’s words, and tugged on her sleeve. The younger girl looked up at her, eyes swimming with unshed tears. “Do not worry, sister. He will be watched over and protected, even into his next life.”
The druids and priestesses stopped circling the barrow and swayed from side to side, lost in their utterances, the whites of their eyes turned to the heavens. Their hands rose as one, inviting the goddess Brigantia to bless the ceremony. One of the priestesses produced two silver spoons, both short and without stalks, and one with a small hole at the edge. Cartimandua gave an inward shiver at the sight. Even as a bloodthirsty Brigante, she wasn’t too comfortable with the druidic sacrifices. They were a necessity, nothing more. Without them, the tribe was vulnerable, with no graces from the gods. As she stared in horror, a druid produced a small animal, already slaughtered at the beginning of the funeral. The animal was tipped gracefully, so that its blood dripped into the first spoon. The priestess leaned the first spoon so that the blood trickled through the hole to the second, chanting to herself as the whole putrid mixture was poured into the barrow.
Cartimandua turned herself and Aiia away from the sight as they began the process of laying stones around the graveside, and faced the crowd behind. Her people. Denorix, Cartimandua’s husband, came forward and gave her a curt nod. She eyed him for a second, a curious expression crossing her features, before she turned her attention back to the waiting faces of the Brigantes.
The young girl cleared her throat, collecting her thoughts before she spoke. The crowd fell silent, the only sound the wind howling through the trees, shaking more leaves down in a golden carpet. Her hand tightened for a second on Aiia’s, before she let it fall away, clasping them before her in a regal gesture. “My people,” she called out, “face your Queen.”
Cries of, “Queen Cartimandua!” rose up among them, filling the air with a new sound. Aiia glanced down at the ground and repeated their confirmation, trying hard to bat away the tears that still escaped for their fallen father. Cartimandua attempted to remain stony, but a small smile etched itself onto her lips, and her emerald eyes sparkled with new purpose.
Copyright Kathryn Northwood 2013.