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Authors: Manda Scott

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Dreaming the Eagle

BOOK: Dreaming the Eagle
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Boudica, Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott. Back Cover.

In AD 60, Boudica, war leader of the Eceni, led her people in a final bloody revolt against the occupying armies of Rome. It was the culmination of nearly twenty years of resistance against an occupying force that sought to crush a vibrant, complex civilization and replace it with the laws, taxes and slavery of the Roman Empire.

Dreaming the Eagle recreates the roots of a story so powerful its impact has survived down the ages. This gloriously imagined epic recounts the growth to adulthood of Breaca, who at twelve kills her first warrior, and her sensitive, skilful half-brother Ban, who carries with him a vision of the future that may save his people.

This is the unforgettable world of tribal Britain in the years before the Roman invasion: a world of druids and dreamers and the magic of the gods; where horses and hounds and the landscape itself become characters in their own right; where warriors fight for honour as much as victory. Above all, it is a world of passion and courage and spectacular, heartfelt heroism pitched against overwhelming odds. Dreaming the Eagle is the first part of the trilogy on the life of Boudica.

www.booksattransworld.co.uk

TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS 61-63 Uxbridge Road, London WAS SSA a division of The Random House Group Ltd RANDOM HOUSE AUSTRALIA (PTY) LTD 20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney, New South Wales 2061, Australia RANDOM HOUSE NEW ZEALAND LTD 18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland 10, New Zealand RANDOM HOUSE SOUTH AFRICA (PTY) LTD Endulini, Sa Jubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa

Published 2003 by Bantam Press a division of Transworld Publishers Copyright Manda Scott 2003 Maps copyright David Atkinson 2003 Design by Julia Lloyd

The right of Manda Scott to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBNs 0593 051637 (cased) 0593 048784 (tpb)

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

Typeset in 11/13@6pt Sabon by Falcon Oast Graphic Art Ltd. Printed in Great Britain by Mackays of Chatham plc, Chatham, Kent

357910864

 

For Robin and Elaine, with love

CONTENTS

Acknowledgements

Western Europe, AD 32

Prologue: Autumn AD 32 I: Spring-Autumn AD 33 Tribal Britain, AD 32 II: Winter-Spring AD 37 Cunobelin’s Dun

III: Spring AD 39-Spring AD 40 Gaul, Belgica and the Germanies, AD 39 IV: Late Summer-Autumn AD 43 Routes of Invasion, AD 43 Epilogue Author’s Note Names and Their Pronunciations Bibliography

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.

ANY WORK OF THIS NATURE REQUIRES AN EXTRAORDINARY AMOUNT OF background material. I would like to thank the following for their expert advice and assistance: Dr Gilly Carr, Dr Jon Coe, Philip Crummy, Dr J. D. Hill, Professor Lawrence Keppie and Owen Thompson, all of whom gave freely of their time and expertise, and those members of the Brit-arch internet mailing list who so often supplied answers to mundane questions. Most especial thanks to H. J. P. (‘Douglas’) Arnold, astronomer and formerly Primus Pilus in the Legio Secunda Augusta re-enactment group, who provided continual support and invaluable comments throughout. As is always the case, any technical faults are entirely mine, as is the interpretation of the facts supplied.

Thanks also to Jane Judd, my agent, and Selina Walker at Transworld for having faith from the beginning and to Kate Miciak and Nita Taublib at Bantam US for their support and enthusiasm.

Particular thanks to Leo, who introduced me to the dreaming, and to Carol, Hillary, Eliot and Ken, amongst others, who showed me how to live it.

PROLOGUE.

AUTUMN AD 32.

THE ATTACK CAME IN THE HOUR BEFORE DAWN. THE GIRL WOKE to the stench of burning thatch and the sound of her mother screaming. Outside, in the clearing beyond the hut, she heard her father’s response, and the clash of iron on bronze. Another man shouted - not her father - and she was up, throwing off the hides, reaching back into the dark behind the sleeping place for her skinning knife or, better, her axe. She found neither. Her’ mother screamed again, differently. The girl scrabbled frantically, feeling the fire scorch her skin and the sliding ache of fear that was the threat of a sword-cut to the spine. Her fingers closed on a haft of worn wood, running down to the curve of a grip she knew from hours of oil and polish and the awe of youth; her father’s boar spear. She jerked it free, turning and pulling the leather cover from the blade in one move. A wash of pre-dawn light hit her eyes as the door-skin was ripped from its hangings and replaced as rapidly by a shadow. The bulk of a body filled the doorway. Dawn light flickered on a sword blade. Close by, her father screamed her name. ‘Breaca!’

She heard him and stepped out of the dark. The warrior in the doorway grinned, showing few teeth, and lunged forward. His blade caught the sunlight and twisted it, blinding them both. Without thinking, she did as she had practised, in her mind, in the safety of the lower horse paddocks, and once in the forest beyond. She lunged in return, putting the weight of her shoulders, the twist of her back and the straightening kick of both legs into the thrust of the weapon. She aimed for the one pale segment of skin she could see. The spear blade bit and sank into the notch of his throat at the place where the tunic stopped and the helmet had not yet begun. Blood sluiced brightly downwards. The man choked and stopped. The sword that sought her life came slicing on, carried by the speed of his lunge. She wrenched sideways, too slowly, and felt the sting of it carve between her fingers. She let go of the spear. The man toppled over, angled away from her by the weight of the haft. The doorway brightened and darkened again. Her father was there.

‘Breaca? Gods, Breaca-‘ He, too, stopped. The man on the floor pushed a hand beneath his side and tried to rise. Her father’s hammer sang down and stopped him, for ever. He brought his arms up and round her, holding her close, smoothing her cheek, running his big, broad smith’s fingers through her hair. ‘You killed him? My warrior, my best girl. You killed him. Gods, that was good. I could not bear to lose you both—’

He was rocking her back and forth, as he had when she was a small child. He smelled of blood and stomach acid. She pushed her arms down his front to make sure that he was whole and found that he was. She tried to squirm free, to look at the rest of him. He leaned in closer and his breathing changed and she felt wet warmth slide down her neck to the wing of her shoulder and from there down the flat plane of her chest. She let him hold her, then, while he wept, and didn’t ask him why her mother had not come in with him to find her. Her mother, who carried his child.

The stomach acid was her mother’s. She lay near the doorway and she, too, carried a spear in her hand. She had used it once to good effect but they had been two against her one and the child she carried within had slowed her turn. The slice of the blade had opened her from chest-bone to hips, spilling out all that had been inside. Breaca crouched down beside her. The tentative light of the new day brought colour where before there had been none. She reached down to the small, crinkled thing lying at her mother’s side and turned it over. Her father was behind her. ‘It would have been a boy,’ she said.

‘I know.’ He let his hand rest on her shoulder. His fingers were still. His weeping had stopped. He knelt down and hugged her, fiercely. His chin pressed on her head and the burr of his voice rocked through her neck to her chest as he spoke. ‘What need have I of another son when I have a daughter who can face an armed warrior and live?’

His voice was warm and there was pride in the wretched grief and she had not the strength to tell him that she had acted out of instinct, not courage or a warrior’s heart.

Her mother had been leader of the Eceni, firstborn of the royal line, and she was honoured in death as she had been in life. Her body was bound in fine linen and hides, closing the child back into her abdomen. A platform was built of hazel and elm and the body raised onto it, lifting her closer to the gods and out of reach of wolf and bear. The three dead warriors of the Coritani, who had broken the laws of the gods in killing a woman in childbirth, and of the elders in killing the leader of a neighbouring tribe without fair battle, were stripped and dragged to the forest to feed whatever found them first. Breaca was given the sword from the one she had killed. She didn’t want it. She gave it to her father, who broke it across his forging block and said he would make her a better one, full sized, for when she was grown. In its stead, Airmid, one of the older girls, gave her a crow’s feather with the quill dyed red and bound round with blue horsehair, the mark of a kill. Her father showed her how to braid her hair at the sides, as the warriors do for battle, with the feather hanging free at her temple.

In the late morning, Eburovic, warrior and smith of the Eceni, took his daughter to the river to wash her clean of the blood of battle and bind the cut on her hand and then walked her back to the roundhouse to the care of Macha, her mother’s sister, the mother of Ban, his first and only living son.

I. SPRING-AUTUMN AD 33.

I.

BAN HAD THE DREAM FOR THE FIRST TIME WHEN HE WAS EIGHT years old, in the spring after Breaca lost her mother and got a sword-cut on her hand. He woke suddenly and lay sweating under the hides, his eyes searching the dark of the roof space for comfort. A long time ago, when he was younger and afraid of the night, his father had carved the marks of horse, bear and wren on the crooked beam above his bed to keep him safe. He had spent light summer evenings tracing them in his mind, feeling the wall of their protection. Now he lay in the pressing silence, praying for light, and saw nothing. If the moon had risen, it did not shine on his side of the roundhouse. If there were stars, their light did not penetrate the thatch. Inside, the cooling embers of the fire gave off a thread of smoke but no flame. It was the blackest night he could ever remember and he might as well have been blind, or still dreaming.

He did not want to be dreaming. Blinking, he searched for other ways to anchor himself in the world of the living. Light, dry smoke tickled his nose. Each night his mother laid a tent of twigs on the embers, that the smoke of their burning might carry her family safely through the world beyond sleep. With age, he was beginning to understand the language of the smoke. He breathed in and let the different tones filter through his head, sorting them into an order that would speak to him: the acerbic touch of sun-scorched grass, the warmer, more sinuous thread of acorns roasting, the pricking of wet shale and the high, clear note of tannin, as from a hide, freshly cured. It was this last one that fixed it. An image came of a girl lying asleep under a scattering of white petals and, later, of a tree dripping red with berries the colour of dried blood that he had been told not to eat. Hawthorn. It would have been that.

He made his body relax. He was calmer now. His heart beat less hard. He closed his eyes and let the drifting smoke carry him back to the start of the dream. In the other world it was daytime. He was riding a strange horse, not one of his father’s; a red mare with a hide the colour of a fox in winter. She was tall and very fit. He ran his hand down the length of her neck and her coat sparked like a new coin beneath his fingers. They were running fast, at dreamspeed. He was naked and the mare had no saddlecloth. He could feel the bunch of her muscles gather and pull beneath his thighs. If he worked to let go of this world, he could see the steam billow back from her nostrils and hear the whistle of her breath over the splashing hammer of hooves on turf and bog. In a while, she passed out of the sunlight and entered a mist so thick he could barely see the tips of her ears. The fog swirled in banners past his eyes, making him blind. He sucked in a breath and smelled horsesweat and stale bog-water and the mint-sour tang of myrtle crushed underfoot. Without any good reason, he lifted one hand and cupped it round his mouth and yelled a word - a name - into the dizzying white. His voice came out harshly, like a raven’s, and the name itself made no shape in his head. It echoed and came back to him and still made no sense. He let it go and leaned forward instead, singing to the red mare, urging her on, promising her fame and long life and strong foals if she carried them both safely through the danger. There was certainly danger, both of them felt it; a distant malevolence kept at bay only by their speed. The mare flicked her ears back to listen and then cocked them suddenly forward. The boy felt a change in her stride and looked up. Ahead of him, a fallen yew blocked the path. The mare gathered herself and tucked her head in, shortening her stride. He wrapped the fingers of both hands tight in the snaking red of her mane, feeling the coarse cut of the hair on his palms. She jumped cleanly and he soared with her into eternity. The ground was firm on the far side.

BOOK: Dreaming the Eagle
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