Woo-hoo – I’m through to the second round of the NYC Midnight 250-word short story challenge 🙂
My turn for this wonderful bookish blog hop! My writing is mostly informed by my archaeology; my historical novels are set in the 12thC around a Priory I discovered. But today I’d like to introduce you to the hero of my children’s short stories, aimed at independent readers or for bedtime reading. Henry usually lives in the 1950s, making him just historical; but for this solstice special, as the year turns and there is hope for a better year on the horizon, I thought I’d like to bring him into the present day. He owns a magic pencil, and the things that he draws with it come to life – not always in the way he expects…
Henry Baker and the Stone-Age Solstice
Home was a bit of a depressing place right now, what with not being allowed to visit Nan, and Dad having lost his job. He and Mum spent more time worrying about things than smiling – it felt like no-one had been able to be properly cheerful for months, and it didn’t help that the virus might still cancel Christmas.
Henry was surprised to find that he was really enjoying going to school, even with all the virus restrictions! They had been doing the Stone Age, working backwards to it. Last week Miss Kinneson had talked about how it had taken thousands of years for metal to replace flint tools, and there was even a surgeon in London who used a flint scalpel instead of steel right now, because it was sharper!
She had brought in some Bronze Age axes, real ones, and Henry could still feel the solid cold weight to them, sucking all the heat out of his hand. They’d been a lovely mossy green, and Miss had said that was sort-of bronze rust; instead of going the reddish-orange that iron did, bronze went that soft green colour. He’d liked the shape of them, too – some of them were plain and narrow, with clear straight sides like a ruler, except for where you could see that some of the bronze had leaked out between the two sides of the mould when they were being cast. Most of the others had curvier shapes at the bottom, and Miss explained that to sharpen the blade you hit it with a hammer; the more curved they were, the more the axe had been used. Henry swapped his big straight one with Gurdeep for a lovely curvy one, like a cool green smile. You could just see a bit of shiny metal in one place, like dark gold glinting through, and Henry lost himself in a daydream of a man dressed in furs using this magical gleaming tool to cut firewood for his family.
He hadn’t thought that anything could beat the axes, but this week, Neolithic Week, Miss had laid out some interesting looking stuff at the front and said they were going to talk about them for a bit, then watch a video. She called them up one by one to choose something to hold. Henry hated the days when she did things in reverse surname order; and sure enough, he was last, and there was only one boring looking lump of stone left on the table. He was a bit surprised when Miss smiled at him and told the class,
“Henry has got my favourite piece! As he’s here, we’ll start with it. Have a good look at it, Henry, then hold it up and tell us what you see.”
He looked dumbly at it for a moment, lying in his hand like a short fat slug. It was pale grey with some darker grey spots in, nothing very special. It was almost flat, with just a little bulge at one edge. THIS was Miss’ favourite piece?!
“Turn it over” she whispered.
It still didn’t look that great. It was shaped a bit like a cheese wedge on this side, with the thickest part of the edge curved. He ran his thumb along that side, and frowned in surprise. There were a whole lot of tiny ridges along it! He turned it to the light and peered at it. They were pretty evenly spaced, all along that edge, and looked like they’d been made on purpose, there was nothing in the stone that would give lines like that. The curve was like a grin, and the lines were teeth! He turned it in his hand. With his forefinger curled over the back edge, and his thumb over the top, only the smile showed.
“Oh, clever boy!” Miss said. Henry looked up, startled. “That is exactly the way to hold it. Hold your hand up, so that everyone can see? – what Henry has is called a thumb scraper, and they’re used for cleaning all the gunk off the insides of skins so you can use them to make clothes and shoes from them. You only ever find them right outside where a house was, because that’s where you’d stand and clean up your skins; and Henry is holding it exactly like the person who made it held it to do that work, maybe 5000 years ago.”
Henry wandered back to his seat in a daze, still clutching the thumb scraper. It fitted into his hand like it was made for it, and he could see how what he’d thought were random shapes in the stone were actually meant to be there. There was a place that exactly fitted the fleshy bit at the tip of his forefinger, so he could press really hard if he wanted to; and he could feel how by moving his thumb just a fraction that he was changing the angle of the “teeth”. This was a serious piece of design! It was warm in his hand, and he wondered about the person who had made it, all those thousands of years ago…
He was still half in the dream when Miss pulled the blinds down, turned off the lights, and started the video. It was about some place in Ireland, he hadn’t been listening properly. The camera was flying around a great green mound, people looking tiny beside it. They were on top of a hill, a river curving around, fields stretching away beyond. The camera moved round some more, and there was a great white gash of a mouth on the other side of the mound! The camera zoomed towards it and through a low door. It went black as black, and Henry gasped a bit.
The narrator went on, “For 364 days a year, no light can enter the chamber. Only on the morning of the winter solstice, 21st December, can a single ray of light penetrate the mouth of the tunnel, and only then when the weather conditions are perfect. For the people waiting inside, entombed in the dark, the wait must have been agonising. We can only speculate what that ray of light meant to them. Perhaps only when that golden beam of light slowly crept the whole length of the passageway, across the chamber, and then to its final resting place on the north wall of the chamber, could hope be reborn in the world.”
Henry watched, hardly breathing, as a small warm spot of light broke the darkness and inched along the stone floor, leaving a golden track. It crept past the spot where the camera was, and with unbearable slowness crept up the wall of the chamber. Henry could feel goose-pimples on his arms as the camera panned round, resting at last on three perfectly carved and interlocking spirals, gilded by the light.
“For this year at least, a perfect solstice. The Earth has been woken from her winter sleep by the force of light, and the cycle of life has been renewed with hope.”
The whole class drew breath together as the credits started to roll and Miss flicked the lights on. Henry shut his eyes to keep those golden spirals in his mind for a moment more.
Homework was to write a story set in the Neolithic, and Henry wrote all about how the man had wanted to make his family some fine new clothes for the solstice celebration, and had carefully chosen just the right piece of flint to make the tool that would let him do that. It was an OK story, he thought. Then he borrowed Mum’s gold pen that she used for writing gift tags and very carefully drew those interlocking spirals at the bottom of the page.
There were raised voices coming from downstairs – Mum and Dad arguing again. Henry drew in a deep breath. Nothing he’d drawn with his magic pencil had worked out as he’d planned – but each time things had at least changed. And change was what the whole family – the whole world! – was desperate for. He got the magic pencil out of its secret hiding place in his T-shirt drawer, sharpened it to a fine point, and very carefully used it to draw in one smooth go the line that the sun made going up the passageway and across the chamber, ending exactly in the middle of the spiral. He sat back and huffed out the breath he had been holding. And mentally crossed his fingers. Then really crossed his fingers, both hands – and his toes.
Nothing seemed to happen for a couple of days, and Henry began to worry that he hadn’t been specific enough. What if the magic thought he was drawing a skipping rope? Or maybe a snake? It was freezing outside, maybe he’d caused a whole heap of snakes to appear and die straight away from the cold…
The thud of letters on the mat broke up his thoughts, and he went to fetch them. There was one each for Mum and Dad, so he took them through to the kitchen, where they were both sitting drinking tea, not really talking to each other. They opened them straight away and spoke together.
“It’s an appointment for the vaccine!”
“They’ve offered me the job!”
Dad came round the table and swept Mum up into a hug, and after a moment they pulled Henry in too. Dad spoke into Mum’s hair. Henry had to strain to hear…
“Now we can have a proper Christmas.” He sounded close to tears, but you could tell he was smiling.
Comment below with your favourite children’s story to be in the draw to win a signed copy of Henry and the Magic Pencil; 9 more stories for your little ones 🙂
Here’s the full list of all the Jolabokaflod posts, so you can catch up! Each one has been marvellous so far!
Dec 3rd Sharon Bennett Connolly https://historytheinterestingbits.com
Dec 4th Alex Marchant https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com
Dec 5th Cathie Dunn https://cathiedunn.blogspot.com/
Dec 6th Jennifer C Wilson https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com
Dec 8th Danielle Apple www.danielleapple.com
Dec 9th Angela Rigley Authory Antics
Dec 10th Christine Hancock A boy who became a man. The man who was Byrhtnoth.
Dec 12th Janet Wertman https://Janetwertman.com
Dec 13th Vanessa Couchman https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com/blog
Dec 14th Sue Barnard https://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.co.uk
Dec 15th Wendy J Dunn www.wendyjdunn.com
Dec 16th Margaret Skea Home – Margaret Skea, Author
Dec 17th Nancy Jardine https://nancyjardine.blogspot.com
Dec 18th Tim Hodkinson http://timhodkinson.blogspot.com
Dec 19th Salina Baker www.salinabakerauthor.com
Dec 20th Paula Lofting www.paulaloftinghistoricalnovelist.wordpress.com
Dec 21st Nicky Moxey nickymoxey.com
Dec 22nd Samantha Wilcoxson samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com
Dec 23rd Jen Black JEN BLACK (jenblackauthor.blogspot.com)
Dec 24th Lynn Bryant www.lynnbryant.co.uk
To my great delight, it’s my turn today: but I would urge you to read the backlist and bookmark the page for future posts, because each story has been fascinating. I hope people enjoy mine as much 🙂
Every year, towards the beginning of the new year or the end of the old, I read the scruffy scraps of paper in my joy jar. Into it, as a conscious (and mostly successful) attempt to lift occasional depression, goes a note of anything that gives me joy during the year; often written in purple ink with a favourite fountain pen kept for this purpose.
2019 – despite, or perhaps because of, the politics – turns out to have been an epic year; I could barely jam all the slips into a large envelope. There were no spectacular highlights, except perhaps for publishing two books at Christmas, and seeing the novel stay near the top of its categories for a whole week and counting; but there were so many minor joys that I loved revisiting.
A frequent theme was wildlife – being buzzed by buzzards, hares lolloping towards me before startling into a handbrake turn, goshawks and kestrels filling the skies. The birds in my garden feature, too; a wren scolding me for pruning some ivy, a whole flock of goldfinches feeding on last year’s lavender heads, with a stern injunction written to myself to tidy up later this year.
There are many things that I’m not looking forward to this year – but discovering the many small pleasures ahead is definitely one of them!
I hope that you and yours find joy in the year to come, whatever the challenges.
I think I must be a glutton for punishment… but a combo of delays in editing and print, and a major holiday long booked for the new year, has meant that I have picked Boxing Day 2019 as launch date for both my latest books!
So, ladies and gentlemen – it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to:
Firstly, The Priest’s Son, the sequel to Sheriff and Priest. (As an aside, the Sheriff and Priest e-book is on sale at 99c from December 26th to 31st, to celebrate!)
Continuing the story of Dodnash Priory into the start of the 13th century, it tells a true tale of land grabs and skullduggery, involving Popes and priors, barons and Bad King John, which explains why the Priory was forced to move away from its original position to a permanently waterlogged meadow. There’s also the question of whether Jean, Wimer’s adopted son, becomes a monk or gets his girl…
The image, by the way, is of a small window made of jumbled stained glass rescued from the dissolution of Dodnash Priory, in a neighbouring church! I’ve wanted to write this young man’s story ever since I first saw it. And there’s another image on the other side; the third book’s protagonist, currently in the research phase…
Then there’s that nice lad, Henry Baker. This is a compilation of nine stories written for independent 7-9 year old readers, or perfectly paced for bedtime stories for younger people. They are gentle feel-good stories about a boy who finds a magic pencil; everything he draws with it comes to life, causing him no end of trouble…
A handful of these stories have been published before, but there are three brand-new, never before seen stories which have been getting rave reviews from my local underage beta readers 🙂
If you’d like to be kept up to date with my writing, please sign up to my newsletter. I’m currently giving away a 13thC steampunk short story as well as the historical timeline behind The Priest’s Son to subscribers – although please be patient with me whilst I’m on holiday; wifi is going to be spotty or non-existent!
Finally, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2020!
If this is the first you’ve heard of the Historical Writers’ Forum December Blog Hop – you’re missing out! We’re a group of authors writing across the historical fiction spectrum, who love to share our writing with our readers. There are new articles almost every day during December!
My offering is from my book Sheriff and Priest, and is a scene from the Feast of the Epiphany 1181. January 6th, the last day of Christmas, was one of the most traditional days to give gifts, and King Henry ll has put some thought into the most appropriate gift for everyone on his list. Except the Lady Ida, his long-time ward and mistress…
Henry drained his mead cup and leaned back in his throne, belching gently. Ah – good stuff! He rubbed his full stomach. How pleasant it is not to be at loggerheads with either my sons, or the Church. I must be slipping. He looked round the crowded hall for those of his children present at this feast – a task made more difficult as many of the diners grew sated, and moved around to chat to old friends seated in different parts of the hall.
Easy to spot was his one legitimate son; John was still eating, hunched over his trencher, clad in a fine lambswool tunic. On closer inspection, there was a dark stain on his sleeve, which was shorter than it should be. Henry shook his head. The boy was going through a period of growth, making him even more morose than usual, and clumsy as a puppy. Please God it be over soon.
Also still seated, a few places further than John, was his acknowledged natural son, Geoffrey, whom Henry had recently elevated to Chancellor. He too had pushed back from the table, and, goblet in hand, was surveying the room. Of all my children, he is the one who can be most trusted, and the only one who consistently uses his intellect to my advantage. What a shame he can’t inherit! But he is a magnificent servant, and will continue to serve his brothers. Henry smiled proudly, and looked again for the least of his sons.
It’s a shame that none of the girls are here – it would have been good to have them, and their children, as playmates for young William. Henry spotted the boy in a corner, teasing a wolfhound pup with a bone. He’s taller than I remembered – he must be, what, five? Perhaps six? Definitely time to take him from his mother and get him some decent tutoring. He was very like Ida in colouring. She was rarely far from him – yes, there she is, leaning against the table, watching the boy. Looking a little careworn. This, too, is in my service – she has been at my side whenever I’ve beckoned for many years now. I should make some better provision for her…
The thought of losing one mistress brought his Rosamund to mind. He was going to make another gift to Godstow Nunnery when he distributed presents shortly. He urgently wanted to arrange the best possible provision for her, body and soul, and to minimise her time in Purgatory with prayers around the clock. There was the Abbess – hah! With young Roger Bigod sandwiched between her and the Abbot of Stratford Abbey, a Godly man indeed, but a crashing bore; and to be another recipient of Henry’s generosity later.
Bigod looked as though he was bearing up well to the double onslaught of piety. No, be fair – he was making himself useful whilst waiting on Henry’s pleasure for his inheritance, witnessing charter after charter. In fact, he could witness the charters to the two religious houses. He is at least easier to spend time around than his father had been, and possibly more honourable too. Not that he was going to get his Earldom back, nor indeed the bulk of his lands, until Henry was a lot surer of him. Perhaps he was owed something on account, though…
Henry slapped his slight but growing paunch, and leapt to his feet. He used the momentum to swing up onto the table and over to the other side. Not bad for a man past the best flush of youth, my lad! The noise level dropped gratifyingly fast, and soon even the servitors were still, having topped up everyone’s drinks.
“My friends! We come to the end of another Christmas, and another year. And what a year it has been! We are at peace; reconciled with our Scottish and Welsh neighbours, and with Philip the new King of France. My son Henry the Young King is even now supporting Philip, and though we miss him greatly, it is an honourable task. My sons Richard and Geoffrey are firmly in control of their realms; my daughters all contributing towards the succession of their husbands.
I am blessed with three sons here with me tonight, and am surrounded by my friends. I would like to share some of these blessings, and distribute some gifts, as is my custom.”
He beckoned over the servitor with his small chest, and put it on the table.
“I start with the Church, as is proper.”
He took two charters from the chest, opened one, and laid the other on the table.
“Would the Abbess of Godstow please come here?”
The elderly nun bumbled up, and curtsied twice in front of the King. Henry bowed low, and handed her the charter with a smile.
“The lands, as promised, good Abbess. “
“We will pray for her, Sire.” she whispered.
Henry nodded formal acknowledgement, then returned to his task, a little subdued.
“The Abbot of Stratford!” The Abbot accepted his charter gratefully.
“And now, my beloved son John.”
John stood, a trifle unsteadily. Henry realised that he’d taken a little too much wine, and moved down the table towards him, rather than embarrass the boy. He turned back to the room.
“I thought long and hard about a gift for John. I rejected clothes; because he’s growing so fast that he’d need a new set next week.”
There was a ripple of amusement, and John blushed.
“I’d give him money; but he’d only ask for more. I’ve raised sons his age before.”
This time there was some outright laughter.
“Instead, I wanted to give him something to connect him to his heritage.”
He stripped off a ring from the middle finger on his right hand, and held it up to the crowd. The large emerald caught the light nicely.
“This ring belonged to my father, and to his father before him. I think John has grown into it now.”
He turned to his son, and slipped it on his finger.
“Wear it in good health!”
John bowed, looking a little underawed. Henry shook his head slightly, and went back to the chest.
“For my beloved Chancellor; a Book of Hours! Having just missed out on the Bishopric of Lincoln, he will need to sharpen his praying skills for his next attempt at the cloth…”
He lifted out a gorgeous book, wrapped in purple silk. Geoffrey took it reverently in both hands, and unwrapped it to reveal a gold and jewelled frontispiece.
“Sire! This is magnificent! My profound thanks!”
“And for my youngest son, William…”
William needed beckoning forward, this being the first time that Henry had singled him out in public. He watched with pride as the boy strode forward, carefully put out a foot, and bowed low.
“How old are you now, boy?”
“I am six, Sire.”
“High time you had one of these, then.”
Henry handed him a short dagger, snug in its own tooled leather sheath and belt. The boy crowed in delight, and strapped it on instantly. He looked round to show his mother. Henry followed his gaze, and bent to whisper to the boy,
“Go and fetch her.”
He ran across, and pulled her over; she arrived in front of Henry laughing and protesting, then dropped into a deep curtsey. He put a finger under her chin, and lifted her up.
“Not forgetting William’s mother, the Lady Ida; a length of that very expensive silk she loves so much.”
She blushed prettily, and curtsied again. Henry looked around for Roger.
“Stay here, my dear; Roger Bigod, step up, please.”
He waited until Roger had bowed and taken a place beside Ida.
“I am not yet ready to pass judgement on your stepbrothers’ claim to your father’s lands and title; but in recognition of your services these last few years, I am returning to you the manors of Acle, Halvergate and South Walsham.”
Roger bowed again, looking suitably grateful.
“And one other gift, greater than you know. The hand of the Lady Ida de Tosny, Royal ward, in marriage.”
There. A neat discharge of my obligations.
“Raise your cups, my friends! To Christmas cheer!”
I’ve always wondered how Ida and Roger felt about that casual gift – the marriage was fruitful, with many children, and I’d like to think they were happy together!
Both appear in the sequel to Sheriff and Priest, The Priest’s Son, which is available on pre-order now for release on Boxing Day.
This book takes us into the reign of that sulky prince, John, as Wimer’s adopted son, Jean, struggles to keep the Priory safe from land-hungry rivals and the King’s taxes; and the Pope takes an unfortunate interest in little Dodnash Priory.
Starting today, and running throughout December – writers from the Historical Writers Forum share Christmas stories, from a multitude of eras! (Note Christmas in 1181, on the 17th 🙂
6th Dec Jen Black https://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com/
8th Dec Derek Birks https://dodgingarrows.wordpress.com/
9th Dec Jen Wilson Jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com
11th Dec Janet Wertman https://janetwertman.com/
12 Dec Margaret Skea https://margaretskea.com/blog/
13th Dec Sue Barnard http://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.com/
14th Dec Cathie Dunn https://cathiedunn.blogspot.com/
15th Dec Lynn Bryant http://www.lynnbryant.co.uk/blog/
16th Dec Samantha Wilcoxson https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/
17th Dec Nicky Moxey https://nickymoxey.com/2019/12/17/christmas-gifting-in-1181
18th Dec Nancy Jardine https://nancyjardine.blogspot.com
19th Dec Wendy J Dunn http://www.wendyjdunn.com/christmas-at-the-tudor-court-a…/
20th Dec Judith Arnopp https://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/atudorchristmas
21st Dec Tim Hodkinson http://timhodkinson.blogspot.com/
22nd Vanessa Couchman https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com/blog/
23rd Christine Hancock https://byrhtnoth.com/
24th Paula Lofting https://paulaloftinghistoricalnovel.worpress.com
My turn to interview someone for the Historical Fiction Writers’ Forum “Interview my Character” Blog Hop! This series is proving to be a seriously good read – if you’ve missed any, I’ve included the links towards the end of this post.
Today I’m interviewing Nancy Jardine’s character General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, from the fourth book in her Celtic Fervour series, Agricola’s Bane. I’m a bit nervous about it – the Governor of Britannia doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and has been known to bite; I have the distinct urge to call him “Sir”!
Me: What was your childhood like?
A nostalgic question! I never knew my father, Julius Graecinus, a senator of great integrity who refused to impeach an innocent man. Did you know that the Emperor Caligula was not amused and ordered my father’s execution? My mother, Julia Procilla, already pregnant with me in the womb, could no longer stay in Rome. She returned to the city of her own equestrian upbringing, the Forum Julii in Gallia Narbonensis, where she gave birth to me. Unlike most Roman matrons, she remained a univira, choosing not to remarry. She was a strong woman of high principles who brought me up herself, ensuring that I understood her justifications.
Though my mother was my main instructor, my paternal grandfather ensured I had a good degree of male influence. A man of profound knowledge, he taught me about the earlier Greek culture of the province, yet also versed me well in the vibrant new Roman architecture built under the auspices of the Emperor Tiberius. My first visit to the new amphitheatre, with grandfather, is an indelible memory – so vast, noisy, colourful…and bloody. I was hungry to learn all things new, even the harshest. And, when I was old enough, my mother dispatched me along the coast to Massalia, to receive the more-rounded education worthy of a boy of my equestrian status.
Me: In what way did it prepare you for high office?
I have been asked if I was lonely, growing up without siblings. I never felt alone but it certainly made me learn to keep my own counsel, my decisions and their consequences were mine to own. Of course, I missed my mother when I first went to Massalia but there were so many things to learn: it was a time of great wonder for me. Much larger than Forum Julii, Massalia was so lively and energetic. Massalia’s harbour was even busier than the one at Forum Julii and, when not being tutored, I spent many hours watching the flow of ships in and out of the port. I learned things about sea travel from ship captains that my tutors had no knowledge of, all of which gave me a great craving to experience unknown lands for myself. At the forum, I pondered many truth-seeking questions with the more learned of my tutors and I acquitted myself well in philosophical areas. I ultimately learned that moderation of spirit and conscientious considered actions were most likely to gain lasting success during my forthcoming military career.
Me: You have little sympathy for your Tribune – did your own tribuneship go smoothly?
Certainly more smoothly than that of Titus Sicinia Flavus – that boy is a baronis, a dunce of the first order! It was inevitable– my mother being such a strong willed character – that my career would be military and political rather than that of a philosopher. But if I had grown to be as naively stupid as Flavus, I am certain my mother would have found some other avenue for me to pursue than a potentially deadly occupation in the legions. The first rungs on my cursus honorum, my career ladder, were as a junior tribune in the direct service of Suetonius Paulinus in Britannia. There was no easy entry into that post since the infamous Queen Bouddica was causing havoc in southern Britannia. Thrust into the perils of battle, my prompt execution of duties was essential. I had to learn on the hoof. It turned me rapidly from boy to man, but Flavus…?
Me: What have been the best/worst bits of your Governorship so far?
Such a question! I am a realist. Marching my legions deep into the lands of the Caledonians is undoubtedly the best of my military accomplishments. The worst part is accepting that Emperor Domitian could not care a fig about any of my successes in Britannia.
Me: Do you have any sympathy with the tribespeople opposing you?
Not at all. Why should I? Conquered tribes must accept that being Roman is a better future for them. Being absorbed into the Roman Empire, and being accorded the status of Roman citizenship, is a reward worth having and the loss of their nationhood is a small price worth paying.
Me: Do you see any value in the tribespeople’s way of life?
What value could there be in living in a primitive wooden hut like a snuffling pig? The barbarians have no culture, no written language, and no education. Those in northern Caledonia do not even have any form of citizenship. They have no cities and not a hint of civic structure. These Caledonians need Rome to civilise them and teach them a better way of governing themselves. Rome will bring them structure and show them the value of being prosperous.
Me: How much do you know about it?
By that question, do you mean how much of the local way of life do I have experience of? If so, then my answer is less than none. Those cowardly Caledonians and their allies skulk in the high hills and we only see them when they mount their sneaky little forays to attack my troops. Though, I have been in Britannia long enough to know the traditional Celtic way of life elsewhere on this large island.
Me: What are you going to do to get back in Domitian’s favour?
Ha! You are certainly naïve if you think that is even a possibility. Nothing I do in Caledonia will garner Domitian’s favour. He is not even sufficiently interested in the excellent progress we make in southern Britannia. Fortresses of stone and surrounding settlements are being built with forums that will excel many others across the provinces. But Emperor Domitian is far too obsessed with his own failures in Germania, though he naturally claims ample triumphs to add Germanicus to his titles. He is currently too fearful of the closeness of insurrection in Dacia which is why he has bled me dry of troops, month after month. How can I possibly continue my Caledonian success with my legions and vexillations stretched far too thin across the north?
Me: How far would you go?
Do you mean how obsequious would I be prepared to be? Do you really have to ask me that? The goddess Fortuna no longer favours me, either. The way to satisfy my irrational emperor presently eludes me, though I have pondered the problem long and hard.
Me: How much influence does politics in Rome have on your day-to-day decisions?
That is a very good question! Generally, I would say it matters greatly what happens in Rome but being at the boundary of the western empire does mean some decisions do not have the same immediacy in Caledonia as they would if they were taken closer to Rome. I forge ahead and make my own decisions, till Domitian’s orders can no longer be ignored.
Me: Is there any action that you regret, from your Governorship?
Caledonia is not yet fully under my control.
Me: What would have changed if you had chosen differently?
Domitian’s father, the Emperor Vespasian, was a military man of great experience who knew the value of full strength armies. Had I pressed for more legions from him when I first became Governor of Britannia, those damned Caledonian barbarians would have been brought to heel long before now!
Me: What’s next for you?
Rome. And you may have already realised that returning there is a double-edged sword. I am now weary of my overly-long tenure as Governor of Britannia and would happily spend domestic time with my wife Domitia Decidiana. Though, not being in Emperor Domitian’s favour probably means I must temper my tongue in order to stay alive long enough to enjoy that time with my wife.
Me: Thank you, Sir – uh, General. Ave atque vale!
General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola decrees that he has authorised his creator – Nancy Jardine – to make available one ebook set of the Celtic Fervour Series (4 books) to be given to one #Winner worldwide. To be entered into the draw for this #FREE ebooks#WIN simply leave a comment in the ‘Comments Box’ on this blog, and post a hello on the Facebook Historical Writers’ Forum Blog Hop Page . The draw will take place on 10th July.
Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mystery thrillers and romantic comedy; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure. Her current historical focus is Roman Scotland – an engrossing pre-history era, her research depending highly on keeping abreast of recent archaeological findings. She lives in Aberdeenshire where life is never quiet or boring since she regularly child minds her young grandchildren. They also happen to be her next-door neighbours, her garden creatively managed by them, though she does all the work! Her husband is fantastic at providing regular cups of coffee and tea…excellent food and wine! (Restorative, of course)
A member of the Historical Novel Society; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland; Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Independent Alliance of Authors, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.
You can find her at these places:
Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG & http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G
Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere
Universal Amazon link for Agricola’s Bane mybook.to/ABsherenow
Celtic Fervour Series https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07CTSL7N7/
He turned back on hearing his name, the saluting eques bearing a pile of wooden boards inexpertly wrapped in a cloth, to protect them from the elements.
“Where have these come from?”
“Pinnata Castra, sir.”
He acknowledged the man’s exhaustion, realising that the soldier had jogged up the Via Praetoria to catch up with him.
“Did you stop at our last camp?”
The rider nodded. “Only long enough to learn that you were here, sir, and to rest my horse.”
The arrival of his junior scribe from the direction of his tent was a timely one, though Agricola knew it would have been at Crispus’ behest.
“Deal with these, Lentulus.” He passed over the wax tablets from the Durno camp and accepted the wooden boards from the latest dispatcher, a flash of something he had heard recently bringing forth a fleeting upward-turn to his lips. One of the enraged captives, taken after the confrontation, had called his last temporary camp site Moran Dhuirn. When translated, he was told it meant many fists. Durno was a good enough name.
Dismissing the dispatcher, the first proper smile for a long while broke the freeze at his cheeks as he uncovered the pile. Keeping the one that had cheered him, he handed Lentulus the others. “Crispus can deal with those.”
Lentulus cradled wax and wood gingerly. Dropped onto wet muddy ground would be as harmful to wax messages as to the flimsier wood, if one smudged and the writing on the other disintegrated into a soggy mess.
A measured pace gave Agricola time to absorb the document again as he continued back to his tent, with Lentulus in his wake.
The smile became a grin. Emperor Domitian should be appreciative that the Venicones territory was fully under control now and that it could sustain good farming yields, so long as some effort was put in to drain more of the marshy flatlands that lay between the mountain passes and the waters of the Mare Germanicum – though he knew the emperor probably would not be. It was reassuring to have some positive news during this ominous campaign into the northern reaches of Caledonia.
Conditions in Caledonia
1. Rollo Mire
It’s thought by soil experts that large swathes of the landscape of ‘Aberdeenshire’ were covered in boggy ground. Rollo Mire is an area in my village of Kintore that is a protected “semi-natural wetland ecosystem- which receives sustainable management via the ‘Greenbelt Group’ This belt of land sits within the rampart boundary of the Roman temporary marching camp at Kintore of approx. A.D. 84, and was possibly similar 2000 years ago. Rollo Mire was never drained, although during recent centuries it was surrounded by tilled farmland.
Anecdotal Statistical evidence of the late 1700s states that it was given the name Rollo Mire after a man named Rollo. Rollo, according to the oral tradition, was given the surrounding ‘estate’ (a massive swathe of ‘Aberdeenshire’) sometime after the Normans arrived, post Norman Conquest of Britain when ‘Britain’ was divvied up between the Norman overlords. If correct, then the area has been boggy for at least one millennia, and it’s unlikely it was much different during the invasion of Agricola around A.D. 84.
2. Blanket Bog – Forest of Birse, Aberdeenshire Wikimedia Commons
This is also what much of the landscape may have looked like since a lot of it had already been deforested by the time of the Agricolan Roman invasions. Soil sampling experts (ScARF) think blanket bog extended across much more of what are now drained lower hill slopes of northern Aberdeenshire, so e.g. the bogs were a lot closer to the Moray coast than today.
Me: Thank you, Nancy – I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the Governor, and I now have a much better idea of the challenges he faced!
Blog Hop Dates:
Wednesday 5 June Jen Black interviews courageous, Byrhtnoth, of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles by Christine Hancock
Saturday 8 June – Sharon Bennett Connolly interviews wild and beautiful, Eleanor Elder, heroine of the Rebels & Brothers series
Saturday 15 June Lynn Bryant http://www.lynnbryant.co.uk/blog/Interviews handsome, wily, Matho Spirston of Jen Black’s, The Scottish Queen trilogy
Wednesday 19 June Judith Arnopp http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/ interviews the intriguing, fiercely ambitious, Edward Seymour of the Seymour Sagaseries by Janet Wertman
Saturday 22 June Derek Birks https://dodgingarrows.wordpress.com/ interviews the courageously defiant Nicholaa de Haye of Sharon Connolly’s Medieval Heroines
Monday 24 June Vanessa Couchman https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com/2019/06/24/interview-my-character-blog-hop-sheriff-and-priest-wimer-the-chaplain-by-nicky-moxey/ interviews the wily, intrepid Saxon in a Norman’s World, Wimer, from Sheriff & Priest, by Nicky Moxey
Wednesday 26 June Nancy Jardine https://nancyjardine.blogspot.com interviews Paul van Daan, Lynn Bryant’s gorgeous young officer from The Penisular War Saga
Saturday 29 June Stephanie Churchill https://www.stephaniechurchillauthor.com/ interviews Marie Therese, talented singer of Vanessa Couchman’s historical novel, Overture
Monday 1 July Christine Hancock https://byrhtnoth.com/Interviews Wulfhere, flawed but heroic thegn of Horstede from Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf series
Wednesday 3 July Paula Lofting http://www.paulaloftinghistoricalnovelist.wordpress.cominterviews the conflicted, yet honourable, Prince of Agrius, Casmir, from Stephanie Churchill’s Crowns of Destiny trilogy
Saturday 6 July Nicky Moxey https://nickymoxey.com/ interviews General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, exceedingly determined soldier from Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of the histfic saga – Celtic Fervour by Nancy Jardine
Monday 8 July Janet Wertman https://janetwertman.com/interviews steadfast and resilient Margaret Pole from Faithful Traitor by Samantha Wilcoxson
Wednesday 10 July Cathie Dunn https://cathiedunn.blogspot.comInterviews Aldaith, the long-haired, muscular Viking Warrior from Sarah Dahl’s Viking saga The Current, Bonds, and Battles
Saturday 13 July Alex Marchant https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com/ interviews Joanie Toogood, the rough, tough, but kind hearted street girl from Judith Arnopp’s The Winchester Goose
Monday 15 July Samantha Wilcoxson http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com interviews the tormented and conflicted Munro from Turn of the Tide and the Munro Scottish Saga by Margaret Skea
Wednesday 17 July Margaret Skea http://www.margaretskea.cominterviews Alex Marchant’s young loyal page to Richard III, Matthew Wansford, in The Order of the White Boar series
Sunday 21st July Sarah Dahl https://sarah-dahl.com/blog-posts/Interviews Geoffrey de Mortagne, a man torn between an oath and his duty, in Cathie Dunn’s, Dark Deceit
One of my favourite poems EVER is Real Property by Harold Monro. I think I learned it by heart age about 15, and it’s been a comfort, a pleasure, and an inspiration ever since.
Today I came upon a most wonderful literal incarnation of it, just a few hundred yards from my house. I was out for an early evening walk, looking out for wildlife, when I became aware of that unmistakable sound of many, many bees, and started looking for a swarm instead. Then I realised that the noise was coming from a line of pleached limes, and each little flower cluster had its own visitor!
The whole tree was covered with all kinds of bees and bumbles, loving the lime flowers – and there is a whole avenue of trees!
The noise was wonderful – almost as amazing as the scent. Apologies to anyone in the village who then heard me mumbling along the road myself, trying to get the whole poem straight in my head; saying it out loud was the only way it would come out!
Real Property, Harold Monro
Tell me about that harvest field.
Oh! Fifty acres of living bread.
The colour has painted itself in my heart;
The form is patterned in my head.
So now I take it everywhere,
See it whenever I look round;
Hear it growing through every sound,
Know exactly the sound it makes —
Remembering, as one must all day,
Under the pavement the live earth aches.
Trees are at the farther end,
Limes all full of the mumbling bee:
So there must be a harvest field
Whenever one thinks of a linden tree.
A hedge is about it, very tall,
Hazy and cool, and breathing sweet.
Round paradise is such a wall,
And all the day, in such a way,
In paradise the wild birds call.
You only need to close your eyes
And go within your secret mind,
And you’ll be into paradise:
I’ve learnt quite easily to find
Some linden trees and drowsy bees,
A tall sweet hedge with the corn behind.
I will not have that harvest mown:
I’ll keep the corn and leave the bread.
I’ve bought that field; it’s now my own:
I’ve fifty acres in my head.
I take it as a dream to bed.
I carry it about all day….
Sometimes when I have found a friend
I give a blade of corn away.
I’ve been having some success selling Sheriff and Priest (my first historical novel, telling the story of a real Saxon man who rose to a position of power in Norman England) in the US, but sales don’t often turn into reviews.
And reviews can definitely drive sales, as people feel comfortable about investing their money in a decent read. [Hint – PLEASE review anything you read. It doesn’t need to be long or deep; a sentence or two saying what you liked is fine.]
So I was very pleased to find this on Amazon.com today; thank you, Francophile 🙂
June 25, 2019
Wimer is born to a humble Saxon family in 12th-century East Anglia – not an auspicious start in Norman-ruled England. England is in the throes of the eighteen-year Anarchy, when the succession to the throne was disputed between Henry I’s daughter, the Empress Matilda, and his nephew, Stephen of Blois. Eventually, Stephen recognised Matilda’s son, Henry, who became Henry II, as his heir.
Wimer’s fate is to become a tanner, but his mixture of intelligence, shrewdness and ambition enables him to rise above that. He has a choice between becoming a monk or the more worldly profession of chaplain. He chooses the latter, which sets him on a career that will see him involved in the politics of the realm, falling in love with Henry II’s ward and excommunicated three times. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the story.
The author’s meticulous research shines through on every page and I was thoroughly immersed in Wimer’s England. It’s a page-turning read, and I was rooting for Wimer all the way, but the author also paints a very believable portrait of Henry II. Highly recommended.