Authors: Manda Scott
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #_rt_yes, #_NB_fixed, #onlib
DREAMING THE EAGLE
The first volume in the life of Boudica
“A powerful novel, alive and with the love, deceit, widsom and the heroics of humanity.”
“What’s amazing to me about this tale of Boudica is the pitch-perfect fluency with which Manda Scott brings it forth …All of it is utterly convincing and compelling … A stunning feat of the imagination and an absolute must-read for lovers of historical fiction.”
“Full of powerful descriptions of the natural world … If [Scott] can keep up this standard in the next volumes … she will have achieved something exceptional.”
∼Times Literary Supplement
“A staggeringly imaginative invocation of Britain’s secret history. Manda Scott has created a fictional universe all her own, but close enough to our reality for it both to warm and break our hearts. Breathtakingly good, it reveals the best and worst in all of us.”
“This is the best sort of historical fiction—exciting, full of a sense of how different times feel, and also intelligent about historical issues.”
“Scott weaves the stories of Breaca and Bán into a complicated and satisfying pattern…. This novel is beautifully written and lovingly told, filled with drama and passion…. Highly recommended.”
“Scott has written a suspenseful historical novel that will entertain readers and those looking for a strong character who can fight her own battles and still show her vulnerability. Oaths, loyalty and tradition are at the heart of this imaginative tale.”
ALSO BY MANDA SCOTT
STRONGER THAN DEATH
NO GOOD DEED
BOUDICA: DREAMING THE EAGLE
Heartfelt thanks to H.J.P. ‘Douglas’ Arnold, Roman military historian and astronomer, for his unfailingly cheerful reading of the various drafts of this novel and its predecessor and for his insight, honesty and accuracy; without him, the writing and research of the Boudican era would have been immeasurably harder and the result far less coherent. As ever, there are places where I chose to ignore his advice and any inaccuracies of fact or concept are entirely my responsibility. Thanks to Robin and Aggy for input on caves and for general support in the writing. Thanks of an entirely different nature to Debs, Naziema, Carol and Chloë who, at various times and in various ways, kept the realities together and to Tony, for friendship, grounding and thoughtful sanity. Thanks in perpetuity to my agent, Jane Judd, and especially to my editors on both sides of the Atlantic for their care, insight and stamina. Finally, thanks to all those who have shared the dream and do so still.
Listen to me. I am Luain mac Calma, once of Hibernia, now Elder of Mona, adviser to the Boudica, Bringer of Victory, and I am here to teach you the history of your people. Here, tonight, by this fire, you will learn what has come before. This is who you were; if we win now, this is who you could be again.
In the beginning, the gods ruled the land and the ancestor-people lived in their care. Briga, the three-fold Mother, held them through birth and death, and Nemain, her daughter, who shows her face each night in the moon, gave succour between these two journeys. Belin, the sun, warmed them, and Manannan of the seas gave them fish. The ancestors saw that this island of Mona was sacred to all the gods and for untold generations warriors, dreamers and singers from the tribes have come to sit here in this great-house and learn.
With time, the tribes grew, each with its own strengths. Rome, too, was growing; her traders sought hides, horses and hounds, tin and lead, jewellery and corn and they found them here in abundance.
It was greed for corn, for silver, and for our people as slaves that brought Julius Caesar to our shores. He came twice and each time the dreamers of our ancestors called on Manannan to send a storm to wreck his ships and drown his men. The first time, Caesar barely escaped with his life.
A year later, returning, he fought a small battle against the heroes of the east, at the end of which they agreed to talk with him rather than spill more blood. He offered them trading treaties and monopolies on the wines and enamels from Gaul and Belgica and those who saw their future in trade, and saw no threat from Rome, agreed.
We lived in peace for nearly one hundred years. In that time, a single man came to rule over the tribes on either side of the great river: Cunobelin, the Hound of the Sun, dealt skilfully with Rome. While the Caesars Augustus and Tiberius marched their legions out over Gaul and the Germanies, Cunobelin sent envoys promising peace and trade, but not so much of either that he offended the tribes who hated Rome and who might otherwise have come to view him openly as an enemy.
While Cunobelin lived, there was peace. There were many among our elders and grandmother-councils who watched the Roman subjugation of Gaul and feared that we would be next. Amongst those were the Eceni, the Boudica’s people. Their lands bordered those of the Sun Hound and, although they were not at war with him, they refused to trade in anything Roman, nor would they sell to Rome their horses, hides or hunting hounds, which were the best the world has ever seen.
The Eceni were in conflict with the Coritani and it was in killing a Coritani spearman that Breaca, who became the Boudica, won her first kill-feather. She was twelve years old and still a child, but the warrior showed in her clearly. Breaca’s half-brother, Bán, was younger, but his head was cooler and his heart perhaps more open. The gods loved Bán and sent him dreams of a power unknown since
the time of the ancestors. Breaca loved him as any sister loves a brother.
In Cunobelin’s lands, life was not peaceful; the Sun Hound set his own three sons against each other, thinking to teach them by constant competition. Togodubnos was eldest and could hold his own. Amminios, the middle son, thrived in the constant conflict but Caradoc, the youngest, and the most ardent warrior, loathed his father and escaped to be with his mother’s brother, a seaman.
The gods, who know these things better than we, caused Caradoc’s ship to be wrecked on the eastern shores and the lad was washed up, half-drowned, at Breaca’s feet. Thus began one of the greatest alliances in our history, although it took them years to come together and without war it might never have happened.
With Caradoc was shipwrecked a Roman, Corvus, who came to know the Eceni and care for them. In the spring after the shipwreck, Breaca and her warriors escorted Caradoc and this Corvus south to the lands of the Sun Hound. They were well received and treated with honour, but for Bán, who fell into a game of Warrior’s Dance with Amminios and beat him. Above all else, Amminios hated to lose and it was this that spurred him to mount an attack on the returning Eceni.
They fought a battle at the Place of the Heron’s Foot and many were slain. The greatest loss was the boy, Bán, against whom Amminios held his grudge. Breaca saw her brother slain and his body taken by Amminios and although the dreamers have searched all the pathways to the other world, none has yet found his soul that it might be returned to the gods.
Four years ago, two things happened to change the peace of the tribes: Cunobelin died, leaving his sons to fight amongst themselves, and across the Ocean a new emperor came to power in Rome. Claudius was weak and had a need to prove to the senate and the people that he had the skills of Julius Caesar, whom they still revere. He sent four legions and four wings of cavalry against us. Forty thousand men and their horses, servants, engineers and doctors took ship for Britannia.
The battle of the invasion lasted two days and will be told for ever round the fires. A thousand heroes lost their lives on the first day, for the death often times that many Romans. Late in the evening, when we were winning, Togodubnos and Caradoc found themselves trapped, unable to advance or retreat. Their deaths were certain until Breaca led a charge that smashed the Roman lines and freed those caught within. It was then that she earned the name by which we know her: Boudica, Bringer of Victory.
Togodubnos was wounded and died that night but his brother Caradoc took up leadership of his warriors and, with Breaca, prepared to fight the next day. They would have fought without rest until all were dead or we had victory but the gods deemed it otherwise, sending an entire legion across the river in the early morning so that there was no time to make a stand against them.
We dreamers called a mist and the gods demanded that Breaca and Caradoc lead the warriors and children to safety—without them, you would not be alive and Rome would rule unhampered. They did not wish to leave the field of battle but Macha, who had been mother to Bán and was more than a mother to Breaca, demanded it. Macha herself
stayed to hold the fog and it lifted only with her dying, at the very end when all of our people had escaped.
And so we live now with the results of that. Rome marched north and captured Cunobelin’s dun. They call it Camulodunum and have built a fortress there of a size to numb the mind. Breaca and Caradoc fled west and now, with the support of Mona and the dreamers, hold the western lands, killing all Rome sends against us. The time is right for our victory. The old governor who led the invasion will be recalled shortly. Replacing him is Scapula, a general renowned for his savagery. But between one and the other is a space of time when the Roman legions in Britannia are leaderless and we will hit them then, when they are weakest, and perhaps drive them back into the sea.
One thing more: I have spoken of Breaca’s brother Bán and his death at the hands of Amminios, brother to Caradoc. I have travelled in Gaul and I am coming to believe that Bán did not die, but was taken into slavery by Amminios. Later, escaping, he joined the cavalry, serving under Corvus, the Roman officer who had been shipwrecked in Eceni lands and was his friend. A man of Bán’s description, showing knowledge of our people and great skill with horses, fought in the invasion battles and serves now with the cavalry at Camulodunum.
If this man is Bán, if he did join the enemy cavalry, it can only be because he believed that Amminios had slain Breaca and all his family. Left thus alone, he might easily have considered that he had nothing left to live for.
He must know otherwise now—the Boudica is renowned from the west coast to the east and in all ways she is unmistakable. Nevertheless, this man has not come to us
asking help and forgiveness. I believe his true commitment to Rome and all it stands for was made after the second day of the invasion battle, when he found his mother’s body burning on a funeral pyre. If he holds himself responsible for her death, then it may be that he fears himself beyond redemption, for ever cut off from his gods, his people and his closest family.
If I am right, this is a man to watch and fear. The boy that I knew was a dreamer to match the power of his mother and a warrior almost to match his sister; if Bán has lost his connection with the gods and the love of his family, then he will be damaged beyond all knowing. Damaged men are ever the most dangerous, to themselves and others. We stand against them at our peril.
I do not believe the gods would cast out one of their own, however appalling his crimes, and I am seeking ways to find Bán and to speak with him. If I am to do so, it is imperative that Breaca, Airmid and Caradoc continue to believe him dead.
You, here, are in the great-house under the care of the gods. I swear you now to secrecy; only on my death or that of Bán can you speak freely and then only to Airmid, who will know what to do. For now, you may sleep, and dream, and know that the gods take care of you.