“Some really decisive historical arguments.” Prof. John Colarusso (Anthropology, Linguistics, Languages; McMaster University)
Ambrosius Aurelianus is a historically attested fifth century A.D. Christian
Romano-British soldier. His regiment is one of few defending his Celtic
homeland against pagan Anglo-Saxon pirates. In the year 485, Anglo-Saxons
murder his wife and parents, while raiding local farms. Ambrosius then goes
on a quest, galvanising the remaining British troops to hunt down all Anglo-
Saxon tribes threatening his fellow Britons. He is accompanied by his younger
brother, Victor (Uther in Celtic), who worries Ambrosius has a death wish to
rejoin his wife in the next world. However, Ambrosius finds love again with
Geneva, a woman serving in another cavalry regiment. Descended from the
original 5,500 Sarmatians brought to Britain 300 years earlier, they retain the
tradition of women fighting alongside men, like their ‘Amazonian’ ancestors.
This regiment’s founding commander in Britain was: Lucius Artorius Castus!
Mike Weatherley grew up in the county of Kent (whose Latin name was Cantium), which
was the first part of Roman Britain conquered by invading Anglo-Saxons in the late-fifth
century A.D. Born in the Chinese year of the dragon, he always felt an affinity with those
mythical creatures, as well as being fascinated with the legends of the mysterious ‘Arthur’, the
British hero who fought those first Anglo-Saxons. Despite a career as a scientist, Mike always
harboured the dream of writing a definitive version of Arthur’s story. How appropriate that
his fifteen years of research on the subject reveal just how closely intertwined the worlds of
the historical Arthur and dragons actually were. Having reached his solution to this mystery,
Mike hopes his novel has given back to the British people their greatest cultural icon, who was
previously stolen from history by writers of medieval fiction and Norman propaganda.
|Publisher:||Dog Ear Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.59(d)|
Read an Excerpt
A lonely grey pencil of smoke drifted slowly upwards to write its sad story on the pale blue canvas overhead. Beneath lay the still smouldering remains of the east wing of Ambrosius's family farm. The thirty-year-old decurion had arrived at the head of his cavalry squadron shortly before – but two hours too late – to the scene of his own private hell. The only thing he and his men had been in time to do was help the surviving household workers douse the flames, preventing them from spreading to the remainder of the 'L'-shaped building, making it safe – at last – to go inside.
Squeezing through the partly collapsed doorway, Ambrosius and the farm's middle-aged herdsman franticly clawed at the heap of charred, fallen timbers within. Despite choking on acrid fumes sent up by the water from a human-chain of buckets, carried from the nearby river Avon, both men persevered in their clearance effort.
"Are you sure she was in here, Jacob?" Ambrosius desperately pleaded, as the two men excavated through hot ash and rubble, blistering their fingers as they went. So intense was the desire to find his wife alive, he was willing to believe she'd been anywhere other than inside this inferno. For though his now deceased mother had always warned him that love was blind – from tears of either joy or sadness – he now found his own vision likewise clouded and unfocussed by smoke, seeing only what he most dearly wished to be true.
"I'm sorry ... Ambrose," came Jacob's hesitant reply, as he stifled tears of his own. "When we ran from the Saxons, this was the last place she'd been ... and nobody saw her come out." Then, as if to offer some afterthought of comfort, he added: "We searched everywhere else!" But he seemed to stop himself there, as if realising that saying any more might not help the situation.
And perhaps it was best that he added no further details, as the poor soldier could not have dealt with any more; on top of having returned home to find both his parents already slain in the courtyard outside. Whose plain off-white and grey garments were now partly dyed with the sickly purple of congealed blood, giving them the macabre and surreal appearance of having been elevated to the nobility in death.
As Ambrosius briefly turned, to seek any comfort he could find in the old herdsman's ruddy face, all that greeted him were a downturned gaze and guilty expression. Which seemed to betray a shame at having survived the Saxon raid – only to fail to protect the family he worked for – that understandably hung heavily on his soul.
"We should have done more ..." Jacob volunteered, as if making a confession. "We should have ... defended them."
And for the moment, Ambrosius gave no reply, offering tacit agreement. Though he inwardly conceded that he might later feel differently; after the cold light of reason had returned to his normally logical and phlegmatic demeanour. Once he'd accepted that a few unarmed Christian civilians could offer little resistance to a score or more of tooled-up heathen pirates, intent on plunder ... and much worse, besides.
As the two men worked their way into the small room, a commotion of horses' hooves from behind them signalled the arrival of Victor, Ambrosius's younger brother by two years.
Just like his sibling, Victor had worked his way up to the rank of decurion in his own cavalry troop of the Equitum Belgarum from the harbour-fort of Clausentum, defending the nearby estuary of Tribruit. Both of their squadrons, and two others – including one on patrol in the area at the time – had been alerted by locals on horseback to the pirate incursion in the valley of the Avon. But it had taken nearly two hours of hard riding for those other three units of the regiment to get armed and mounted and arrive here, over twenty miles west from their base. And they were left with little better to do than perform such emergency services as this, both here and at the neighbouring farms and hamlets, and to police the aftermath, offering whatever support they could to their surviving fellow countrymen and women.
Having trailed the many signs of destruction higher up the valley, and secured those farmsteads that he could, Victor had followed Ambrosius south, shortly behind him. But the same, sickening realisation now greeted him, too, about what he'd find at his family home; which had lain – like so many others – in the path of the once advancing, but now retreating Saxon raiders.
The new arrivals hurriedly dismounted from their gasping horses and Victor briefly conferred with the troopers outside about the situation, and the location of his brother. He then immediately removed his helmet and unbuckled his sword-belt, rushing over to the almost gutted east wing. Leaning both hands on the still hot doorframe, he peered inside through the smoky gloom. Once his eyes had adjusted, he identified his older sibling, who was already stripped to his linen shirtsleeves within, having removed his mail jerkin to facilitate fighting the fire.
"Ambrose! I heard!" he shouted above the clatter of the rubble clearance.
Momentarily, Ambrosius paused his frenzied activity, turning to acknowledge the familiar figure silhouetted in the doorway by the bright mid-afternoon sunlight outside. Never had he felt quite so glad to see that slightly taller and skinnier version of himself before! If there was one blessing to come out of this disaster, it was to hear Victor's voice, once again, and know that he wasn't the sole family survivor so far today.
"I think she's under here!" Ambrosius explained, with a confidence born mainly of hope, wiping the sweat of heat-exhaustion from his lightly soot-speckled brow.
It was a real boost to his morale as he watched Victor edge into the limited space beside him, adding his own hands to the frenetic lifting effort within the crowded confines in trying to help the other two men clear a fallen beam.
"Mother and Father?" Victor asked, his voice straining with physical effort.
But Ambrosius was already plunging forwards, grasping at the next tumbled block of stone, intent on continuing his own exertions. "In the courtyard," he dolefully replied. "Together with Bran and Vesta," he added, referring to one of the farmhands and his wife. "Butchered!" he spat the word out with controlled anger, while struggling to remain calm, which precipitated a cough that cleared his smoke-congested throat.
Before long, the three men had removed enough of the overlying burnt wattle and daub originating from the upper floor to reveal the now charred wooden frame of what had been a ground-floor bed. And at once, Ambrosius recognised it as the one he'd shared with his wife, the last time he'd been at home on leave. With increased urgency, they quickened their pace, shifting the remaining overburden in the vain hope that she might somehow not be there; or even, that she could have survived within.
But that wasn't meant to be.
Slowly, yet inexorably, the fire-blackened body of his wife was finally revealed, curled into a defensive ball and lying on her left side facing them. All of their previously urgent efforts now ceased.
Ambrosius let out an almost inaudible sigh, sinking to his knees in sympathy with the already collapsed bed, while reaching out with his broad left hand to rest it gently on what remained of her right shoulder. Its unfamiliar texture sent a shiver of repulsion through his fingers, yet he forced himself to keep them there, unwilling to let her go. As the hideous reality of the scene forced itself upon him, something tightened at the back of his throat and a numbing, icy nausea crept slowly down through his neck and spread across his chest. "Nooo!" he whimpered, unable to believe the evidence of his own senses. "Not you, too!" And he knelt there silently, with his eyes closed, willing this all to be some terrible nightmare. But on opening them again, instead of waking from his worst dream ever, he found everything around him unchanged, and only too sickeningly real. It felt as though a gaping hole had just opened up in his life where the last six years had once been.
Victor similarly gazed helplessly on. Firstly, down in pity at his sister-in-law's remains; then, turning to his right, in empathy with her new widower. Watching his brother's torso visibly sag with despair before him, he reached around with both hands, placing one on each of Ambrosius's shoulders, to show that he was not alone. But then, sensing his brother's need for privacy, he stood slowly up and took a step backwards, leaning across to tug gently at Jacob's arm.
"Come on," he whispered to the herdsman. "You'd better show me the courtyard."
The two men then picked their way as quietly as they could back through the rubble and out of the open door. Having shared in the recovery of his sibling's wife, Victor was now steeling himself for his own moment of bereavement, as he headed around the corner into the farm's courtyard, to say farewell to both their parents.
The only sounds remaining within the now unrecognisable room were an occasional sizzle or pop from the slaked embers; though even they now seemed muted, as though in deference to the sorrowful nature of the scene.
Ambrosius had seen a lot, already, in the space of just the last few hours: Pillaged homes, workshops, barns and even a chapel; all looted of silver tableware, pewter-plate, jewellery, sacks of grain from the recent harvest and almost every other portable valuable. There were rape victims and orphans wandering in a daze by the roadside, with their even unluckier husbands, fathers and brothers lying face-down in their own gore. It was a trail of carnage stretching eight miles inland from the coast – which he and his troops hadn't even encountered the half of, so far, as there were still another four miles to go to the sea.
He'd even had to acknowledge the brutal murder of his own father and mother; who'd evidently been stabbed so many times it was hard to count their wounds. But to be faced, on top of it all, with the realization of losing his partner, and to see evidenced the agonies of her last moments – fossilized in the contortions of her limbs as they'd tightened, as if desperate to avoid the flames – was just too much for him to bear. Her dress had been almost completely burnt-off, with only the tiniest carbonized shreds still clinging. Her once long, fair hair had been frizzled to a singed dark mat, and even her skin was so charred that, on leaning closer, he winced with discomfort as patches came away on his fingertips, where he stroked her arm.
The scent of cooked flesh now filled his nostrils as he bent farther forward, to bring his face close to hers. That most primitive of all the senses – smell – was now completely overwhelmed with revulsion. Yet somehow, he conquered it with his wits, determined to gaze once more into those now sunken, lifeless eye-sockets; which had once held irises of the brightest shade of green. Tilting his head sideways, to align it with hers, he whispered the short poem which had been her favourite, commending her soul to the arms of Christ with a prayer, then sobbed what he hoped would only be a temporary good-bye.
"I shall be with you again soon, my love, I swear to you!" That last vow signalling to himself – as much as to his wife – that he'd now stop at nothing till he'd avenged this tragedy on his way to rejoining her ... albeit, no longer in this world.
As she lay there, pitifully transformed by the inferno, he couldn't help wondering if she hadn't already been through the fires of purgatory – before even having left this earth. And he hoped that – in some way – this might speed her soul to heaven, with what minor sins that may have blemished her character already expunged. Though, devout as he was, he could recall no real flaws in such a blameless life. But then, in his present state, he was still heavily handicapped by the myopic hindsight of love. The only thing he could be certain of at that moment was that all his most important reasons for living – apart from Victor – were now gone; taken from him in the most brutal fashion.
Ambrosius curled his fingers tenderly around those of his wife, which were pulled tightly by the intense heat into a pair of fists beneath her chin. But in so doing, he felt something small and hard slip from between them and into his own, now blistered, red palms. Looking down, he saw it shining, and felt the weight of something metallic. As it was still partly coated with soot, he used his thumb to wipe it clean, seeing now that it was a pendant – about three inches long and probably of silver – in the shape of a rampant horse. As such, it vaguely resembled the smaller, paired, decorative horse heads moulded onto the loop of his own bronze army belt-buckle; which was a design characteristic of British regiments for the last two centuries, especially cavalry units, like his own.
Yet this was a martial motif, it suddenly occurred to him, and as such, unsuitable for a woman. It had evidently been suspended in some way, as it had four wire-links attached ... the remains of a chain, most likely. But where was the rest of it, and where had it come from? Ambrosius was familiar with all his wife's jewellery; not that she'd owned that much, anyway – all of which having been stolen during the raid, no doubt. So why hadn't those filthy, thieving animals taken this piece, too? Losing himself in the moment, he let out a sound midway between a laugh and a sob and began speaking to his wife as if she could still hear him; which, in his near-delusional state, he believed she could.
"Where did you get this one, my love? It's not even your style ..."
But then his rational mind began to reassert itself. If not hers ... then whose? The broken chain could mean that it had come from someone else's neck; wrenched off, perhaps, during a struggle. That realisation made him sit back with a jolt, balancing on his haunches, mind working overtime and rocking his head slowly from side-to-side as the possibilities began dawning on him: His wife had died an agonizing death ... though he hoped, at least, that she'd succumbed to unconsciousness, from inhaling smoke, before the flames had actually reached her. Yet she'd evidently thought it important, as her final act, to hang onto this pendant. Again, he directed his attention back to her face.
"Is this a message for me, dearest? Were you trying to tell me something about ..." But then he felt suddenly cold, wary of contemplating too deeply the consequences of what had just occurred to him: Perhaps it hadn't just been the fire, after all. Maybe something had happened immediately prior to that ...? Something which Jacob and the other survivors may have suspected, themselves, but been too sensitive to mention to him ...
His head was pounding, now, from all the events he was trying to process, and he was feeling light-headed due to the noxious fumes he'd already inhaled. After a few more moments of grieving – that were all he could allow himself away from his other duties, for now – Ambrosius physically wrenched himself apart from her once more, emerging from the ruined wing of the house. Tumbling into the daylight, at first, partly due to dizziness from the smoke and partly from shock, he leaned back against the outside wall for support, which still felt warm from the fire. Using the back of his hand he wiped the soot from his cheeks, taking with it what he suspected might otherwise reveal to his men the more conspicuous evidence of his grief, in the form of a twin trail of tears which had already washed clean lines through it down to the skin. He then bent to retrieve his mail jacket from where he'd hastily discarded it on the ground, shaking its thousands of interlinked rings back on over his head and broad shoulders, like a very heavy iron shirt. Responding to the additional weight on his lower back, he necessarily shucked-off his erstwhile hunched demeanour of a grieving widower, now standing straight and tall, once more, like the military man he was. Buckling on his sword-belt, he tucked that mysterious new silver acquisition inside the leather pouch hanging from its right side and made his way around the corner, to where everyone else was gathered.
As he did so, Victor, the surviving farm workers and the men of both cavalry squadrons looked up at his arrival, falling silent in commiseration. They'd been busily washing blood off the household's other four victims, whose bodies had been collected together in the courtyard. After which, they'd begun dressing them with clean clothing salvaged from the surviving south wing – in the absence of any shrouds – to give the deceased some dignity before burial; whenever that might turn out to be.
Excerpted from "Pendragon"
Copyright © 2017 Mike Weatherley.
Excerpted by permission of Dog Ear Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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