Coming to the end of this series of notes at least for now. Sharing this story and my love of history has been eye opening for me. I come away more excited about History of Blood than ever. And the Celts make a wonderful starting point.
My thoughts and opinions on the Celts continues to shift and evolve. When I first started I saw a bit of tragedy in Bastian and Tamzin and their story. Regardless the Romans are coming and this Celtic Britain that they love will be just a memory. But is it as easy as all that?
The Romans never conquered the whole island and for centuries after they left, the descendants of the Celts, the Picts in the north and the Gaels of Ireland would cast a long shadow over the islands. Who’s to say they didn’t in the leave a more lasting impression on the history of England than the Romans? The Anglo Saxons certainly appear to have had society structured more like the ancient Celts than the Romans. Maybe they share a connection some where.
My thoughts on the first book have also shifted. At first I thought I’d do a series of short stories like the Bog Road and collect them all. Now I know I have to make it a novel, something with the scope that this incredible lost world deserves. I’ve got the first preliminary notes down. It’s going to be fun.
Urien gazed down at him. He said something, but Bastian heard only a mumble. It sounded like “too easy.” Then Urien stuck his own wrist in Bastian’s mouth.
Bastian felt something hot and powerful surge through him, like his body burning from the inside.
Urien screamed, No! He roared, like a bear stuck with a spear. Duanna was at his side. In her hand she grasped a piece of sacred mistletoe. Urien stumbled off Bastian as the girl retrieved her bow and notched an arrow.
Her small hunting bow would mean nothing to a warrior with a shield or a mail shirt, but Urien had neither. Duanna’s arrow hit the chief in the chest. Bastian saw the man collapse.
“Stay here!” Duanna yelled and readied another arrow.
Bastian sat propped up against one of the sacred pillars and watched the battle.
Tamzin leapt from one foe to another. A swipe of her sword and another head fell. Just a touch of her staff, and the enemy writhed in agony on the ground. Duanna hung back and fired her arrows, and Bastian saw the creature clutch his side. Black fluid seeped from the wound. The liquid hissed and bubbled as it touched the ground. The Master’s eyes glowed yellow with fury, but Bastian also saw fear.
Now you realize you’re no match for the Goddess.
The creature bellowed and then leapt into the sky. The remaining warriors vanished with him.
Duanna quickly threw a dull green cloak over her mistress. Barely covered, Tamzin approached Bastian and knelt. She gazed at him. At that moment, her eyes were the most beautiful thing in the world. Her face betrayed no emotion. Bastian caught her scent. It filled his nostrils.
“Rest here. You should be safe. Duanna and I will return for you shortly.”
She got up and strode out of the shrine. Duanna hesitated for a moment and cast a worried glance at Bastian.
“Duanna!” Tamzin called.
Bastian whispered, “Go.”
They had to complete their mission. If Bastian died in the meantime, it was no less than he deserved. Duanna tore herself away and ran after her mistress.
Bastian stayed by the pillar of stone. He still felt weak though not close to death. Still even if he lived, he knew he had failed. He had failed his noble father. He’d failed the order of druids who had taken him in and hidden him all these years. He’d failed Tamzin and Duanna when they needed him most.
But all he could think about now were Tamzin’s beautiful eyes, her alluring body, her intoxicating scent. The thoughts filled him with ardor. He cursed himself again but his ardor grew. And so did his strength.
As quickly as it vanished it came flooding back to him. Desire and anger swirled inside him and made him stronger. A few breaths and Bastian rose to his feet. He found his sword and a discarded spear lying on the ground. They felt light in his grasp. He set off after his friends.
He found the bog road and ran along it. After several moments he saw figures up ahead.
Tamzin and Duanna faced three of Urien’s warriors. At first the creatures moved too fast to see. But as they came closer to Tamzin they slowed to normal speed. Tamzin struck the first with her staff and left him writhing in agony to deal with the remaining two. Duanna stood over the stricken warrior with her bow ready.
Kill him, Duanna! Don’t hesitate.
But she hesitated.
The warrior sprang to his feet and leapt at her. The pair stumbled together off the road and onto the wet marshy ground. They sank immediately. The man wouldn’t let go. The water and moss rose to Duanna’s neck. The warrior bent over her, trying to either drown her or bite her neck.
Bastian ran forward.
They’re too far. I’m not going to reach them!
But just as he thought that, Bastian found himself at the edge of the timber road next to Duanna. The girl struggled to keep her head above the bog.
Bastian flipped the spear in his hands and jabbed the warrior with the end. The man fell back into the bog with a splash. Duanna turned.
She stared dumbfounded up at Bastian. He held the spear over her head.
Duanna seized the shaft, and Bastian pulled her free of the bog. She shivered in the night air. Her dress and cloak were soaked with water and caked with mud. Bastian hugged her close. Together they watched as the warrior struggled and sank into the bog. No bubbles came to the surface.
Tamzin stood by them. The last two warriors lay dead and headless on the road. She gazed at the still bog. “A terrible fate. Much worse than drowning. That will not kill him, but it will trap him down there in the darkness where he cannot feed. Eventually he will die from starvation.”
She looked at Bastian. He thought he saw a wave of relief wash over her face.
“You have recovered quickly. Fortunate. This night’s work is almost done.”
They said no more and set off. Tamzin led them back to the hillfort. Bastian saw evidence of the Master’s return. In his scramble to find safety, the beast crashed through the main gate and crushed the two watchtowers. Bastian thanked the Goddess. Siege is very difficult with just three people.
They ran into the narrow ditch. The inner wall loomed above them. Though no arrows rained down on them, Bastian wished he had his shield. Instead screams came from the other side of the wall. When they reached the inner gate, it too lay in pieces. Within chaos and panic ruled. The villagers ran in all directions. Some fell to their knees weeping.
“Memories,” Tamzin said. “The village is still trapped in the memories of their old ways. If the walls are breached and the warriors all slain, then all is lost.”
“All is lost for them,” replied Bastian.
He lopped off the head of the nearest and searched for the Master. He boosted Duanna onto a low roof where she could fire her arrows at anything that moved. He saw Tamzin enter the roundhouse of the stable master and ran to follow.
As he entered, Tamzin whipped away animal skins near the hearth and found the boy and girl hiding beneath. Bastian recognized the two servers from the meal. Tamzin raised her sword.
“Please spare us,” the boy begged. “We’ve done nothing. I swear we didn’t feed like the others. We couldn’t. We fed on cattle and sheep instead.”
“It’s true,” the girl cried.
Tamzin paused and gazed down at the red dust circle on the floor.
“The circle is intact,” she said.
Bastian stepped forward. As he crossed the red circle he felt something hit him like a strong hand pushing him backwards. He pressed through and stood next to Tamzin. She hunted for her mirror and found it. She held it up to the two. In the mirror Bastian saw the reflections of the boy and the girl, pale but still human. Not like Urien.
“What are your names?” Bastian asked.
“I am Ka,” said the boy. “This is Wenna.”
Tamzin regarded them for a moment.
She put down her sword and said, “Ka and Wenna, you crossed my barrier because the goddess allowed you to. She shows me you are still at least partly human. Leave here and never return. And remember your debt to the goddess. If you ever feed on a human, I will know. And I will come for you.”
The two of them got up timidly. Their eyes gazed up to the smoke hole in the roof. Bastian understood and nodded. After they left Bastian retrieved his spear. He and Tamzin silently waited. A twig snapped above them. Bastian wheeled around and threw the spear. It penetrated the roof with a crack and sank deep into what lay beyond. There was a roar followed by a crash.
Tamzin and Bastian rushed out and around the side. They found the Master sprawled out with the spear deep in its chest.
“It’s still alive,” Bastian muttered.
“Not for much longer. The wooden shaft will be his doom. All we have to do is push down.”
“Wait,” the creature wheezed. “You destroy me and you destroy yourself and all the druids. They are coming, from across the water. They will conquer this land and make the Celts their slaves. The druids will be exterminated. Only with my strength and the strength of the others will you be able to survive.”
Bastian halted. The Master meant the Romans. Was it a lie?
Tamzin came forward. “Is that what you told Urien? Is that how you convinced him to become a monster?”
She shoved the spear down into his flesh. The wooden shaft sank into the wound. The Master howled, and then he was no more. Once Bastian had seen a sand dune on a beach slowly vanish as a high wind blew. It was like that, only infinitely faster. Once there had been a creature, twice the size of a man with skin like the night, then there was nothing, not even bones.
“Pay his words no heed,” Tamzin said to him. “You have a destiny.”
Bastian nodded but said nothing. They rejoined Duanna and scoured the town. There were no more like Ka and Wenna; none who begged for mercy or claimed innocence. They had participated in Urien’s madness. At least that is what Bastian said to himself as he hacked away at them.
When morning broke over the village, Bastian shaded his eyes. The sun was brighter and hotter than he remembered. He sought the shade of the blacksmith’s hut. Duanna appeared with two sacks.
“The stores are full of grain and dried food,” she announced. “I’ll have us a fine morning meal in a little bit.”
She glanced at Bastian standing in the shadows.
“We did the Goddess’ work last night,” Duanna said.
Bastian looked about the silent hillfort.
“Instead of three empty villages there are four,” he muttered.
“There might have been ten or twenty had we not come,” Duanna said.
She chewed on a bit of dried fruit.
“She’s in the house.” Duanna pointed to the stable master’s home.
“Is she looking for something?”
“She’s waiting for you,” Duanna said with a small grin.
The sun glared down on Bastian as he crossed to the stable master’s house. He was glad to be back in the shade once he stepped inside.
Tamzin sat by the fire. She still wore only a cloak. “Come closer,” she said.
Bastian stepped forward. He felt a slight tingle as stepping into the red circle. He also felt his desire grow.
“Are you going to tell me how I failed you?”
“Failed?” Tamzin asked. Her stern face was gone. She gazed up at him with watery eyes. Soft Tamzen. Softer than he had ever seen before. “I failed you. You are no guardian. That is a disguise meant to keep you safe. Last night I put you in danger. It’s unforgivable.”
“Stop,” Bastian said. “Whether I’m prince of the Gauls or your armed escort, my life is always in danger. There is no safe place for me. Last night I forgot that. And no one’s at fault except me.”
“Because I distracted you.”
He could barely stand it. He was so close to her. She was barely covered by her thin cloak. Her scent was in the air. She was the woman he loved. He loved the strength of Hard Tamzin, and he loved the Soft Tamzin who was full of what fools would call weakness. It wasn’t that at all. It was a different kind of strength, the strength to care. He remembered all his thoughts about how being together would dishonor them, and they seemed so petty now.
“You did your duty to your Goddess,” he said. “You should have no regrets.”
“No regrets?” she asked. “You and Duanna are the ones who free me from my burdens. Alone with you, I can laugh out loud or weep openly.”
“Which do you want to do right now? Laugh? Weep?”
“Definitely not weep.”
Tamzin stood. She pulled at his breeches. “It’s a little unfair, don’t you think? You’re not the only one who’s dreamed and wondered.”
He rushed forward and pressed his lips to hers. The fire erupted within him. Bastian yanked off his shirt while Tamzin pulled away his breeches. Her cloak fell away from her. They rolled together on the furs and moaned together.
It was just like in his dream.
And slowly, it became even better.