Before Beltane: The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour
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.
Lorcan-In the Sacred Groves
“Leave your horse here, Lorcan. It will go nowhere on its own. Come up alongside me, now.”
While Lorcan did the druid’s bidding a different voice boomed a greeting from the far side, though no one was visible in the shadowy low-lights the brands provided. What they did emphasise were the twisting branches of an impressive time-aged elm. A weighty branch had dipped to the ground and had sprouted a new trunk, in the process forming a natural waist-high platform between the mother-tree and its offspring.
“All is ready for you, Lorcan of Garrigill. Step forward.”
The disembodied greeting was personal, but was definitely not one that gave Lorcan any reassurance. Breathing normally became incredibly difficult as he stumbled towards the table alongside the druid, Maran.
Without warning, the pathetic bleating of a goat broke the near silence around the area. At almost the same time, Lorcan became aware of one figure emerging from the side of the mature tree trunk while another appeared from somewhere behind it, dragging the protesting animal towards the table.
The figure who trapped Lorcan’s full attention was the one who had stepped from the tree-hollow, holding a slighter torch brand. He was well-used to seeing a masked druid officiating at important ceremonies, but the headdress that confronted him was the most awe-inspiring one he had ever laid eyes on. He felt he was facing the god Cernunnos himself.
A pair of glittering eyes were the only human like characteristic, since the carved headdress – dripping with ivy and similar greenery – flowed down over the shoulders of the figure and seemed rooted to the very ground beneath him.
A living tree stood before him!
“I am Irala! Chief Druid of these Sacred Groves. Lorcan of Garrigill, your fate will now be revealed.”
Lorcan’s knees almost failed to hold up his weight. If he had not heard Maran’s voice alongside him, he feared he would have succumbed to the overwhelming dread that trapped him.
“Do you have the sacrificial knife ready?” Maran asked the acolyte who had lifted the squirming young goat up onto the natural table, and had begun to pin it down beneath the strong cords that were already criss-crossed over and around the twisted ridges of the levelled-off tree platform.
“It is already there.” Irala pointed to the far end of the platform from where he was standing.
Lorcan could not prevent himself from noting the glistening and highly decorative knife hilt that protruded from the wood. The blade-tip set into a crack held the weapon in an upright position.
Once the still screeching and squealing goat was deftly trapped, the cords were tightened fast. Its head reared desperately to free itself till the acolyte took another short cord and fastened the mouth shut, leaving the head lolling slightly over the table-edge next to Irala. The Chief Druid’s nod indicated that the acolyte’s role was over and that the novice should step to the side.
“Join me here, Maran,” Irala instructed before he began to intone.
Feeling even more vulnerable without Maran’s presence at his side, Lorcan watched his druid guide step along to the mother-tree trunk. Maran disappeared inside the base, immediately emerging again from the side opening, as Irala had done earlier.
“Step closer to the altar, Lorcan of Garrigill!” Irala ordered. “Observe. It is important that you see what the gods predict for you.”
Irala’s command left no confusion as to what Lorcan’s role was. He could not say at which point he truly believed that the knife was about to be used to sacrifice the goat and not himself, since he felt close enough to still be the victim.
Maran’s chants began as a whisper, but steadily rose in intensity as he stretched past the goat to fist the weapon before withdrawing it from its wooden cradle.
Animal sacrifices were common during purification ceremonies, but the chants Lorcan was hearing were not ones that he was familiar with. When Irala joined in with an even gloomier-pitched-fervour, Lorcan’s fragile security dipped again. He was unprepared when the loud intonation abruptly ceased.
With eyes that remained rigidly open, he stared as the knife slashed down to slice open the animal’s neck. The acolyte darted alongside Maran and whipped a metal bowl under the goat’s neck to collect some of the blood flow, before the low incantation began again.
Once the bowl held sufficient liquid, the novice moved away.
Maran slowly raised the knife again, the incantation volume rising once more. Three swift slits were all it took for Maran to slice away the pelt and reveal the innards.
Lorcan was confused. During previous sacrifices the animal had been laid down to face the diviner. Was he now supposed to extract the entrails himself? His gaze sought Maran’s, but the familiar druid solemnly set the blade down near the almost-decapitated head. Then Maran and the acolyte both moved aside for Irala to stand directly in front of the sacrifice.
Lorcan watched in fascination as Irala’s hands appeared through the drapes of greenery. Each palm cradled a leaf-shaped flat blade, the flickering lights around the area illuminating the different colours of the metals that were used in the construction of the decorative touches. Scooping both blades into the peeled-open carcass, Irala extracted a bundle of innards and held them out in front of Lorcan. Another entreaty was made to the gods, before Irala stepped along past the sacrifice and allowed the animal guts to slip free onto the polished surface of the natural table. More intoning of chants that Lorcan had never heard before accompanied the Chief Druid’s blade edges as he used them to open up the entrails, to lay bare the interiors.
Lorcan could hardly breathe. Irala seemed to be staring at the signs for too long before Maran was invited to come closer to make his own judgements.
Both heads dipped and soft mutters were emitted, words he was not intended to hear. When the druids eventually raised their heads, they stared at him in sombre silence and Lorcan knew that the time had come.
Was he to fall under the lethal knife?
It seemed far too late to pray to his goddess Andraste but his wittering was instinctive.
Irala’s voice boomed around the clearing. “You do well to ask for the goddess Andraste to guide your life, Lorcan of Garrigill. You surely will have need of her help since the gods show here that your future will not be an easy one.”
Available on #KindleUnlimited
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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Book Title: Before Beltane
Series: Celtic Fervour Series
Author: Nancy Jardine
Publication Date: 29th April 2022
Publisher: Nancy Jardine wit
h Ocelot Press
Page Length: 268 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Twitter Handles: @nansjar @maryanneyarde
Instagram Handle: @coffeepotbookclub
Hashtags: #HistoricalFiction #RomanEmpire #AncientWorld #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub
(Celtic Fervour Series)
By Nancy Jardine