18 October 2012

Excerpt Thursday: The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine

This week, we’re welcoming author Nancy Jardine whose title THE BELTANE CHOICE takes readers to northern Britannia as the Celts face the threat of Roman ambitionJoin us Sunday, when Nancy will be here to talk about the novel and offer an ebook copy to a lucky winner. Here's the blurb:

Can the Celtic Tribes repel the Roman army?
AD 71

Banished from the nemeton, becoming a priestess is no longer the future for Nara, a princess of the Selgovae tribe. Now charged with choosing a suitable mate before Beltane, her plan is thwarted by Lorcan, an enemy Brigante prince, who captures her and takes her to his hill fort. Despite their tribes fighting each other, Nara feels drawn to her captor, but time runs out for her secret quest.

As armies of the Roman Empire march relentlessly northwards, Lorcan intends to use Nara as a marriage bargain, knowing all Celtic tribes must unite to be strong enough to repel imminent Roman attack. Nara’s father, Callan, agrees to a marriage alliance between Selgovae and Brigante, but has impossible stipulations. Lorcan is torn between loyalty to his tribe and growing love for Nara.  

When danger and death arrive in the form of the mighty Roman forces, will Nara be able to choose her Beltane lover?

**An Excerpt from THE BELTANE CHOICE**

Above the noises of the marsh creatures and the flapping of birds rising out of the boggy waters Nara heard sounds of people at their daily work as Brennus padded behind her, keeping her moving at a steady lope. A child cried somewhere, but the direction was impossible to tell. The marshes deadened the sounds, muffling them, baffling inexpert ears like her own, and tall marsh plants set up an odd sort of disorientation. The sounds of iron on an anvil hummed close by; a voice sang a merry accompaniment. The acrid reek of the forge mingled with the smells of the waterside and the nauseating stench of tanning leather.
Brennus forced her into a large clearing close to the lake’s edge, Lorcan’s warrior band having spread around the perimeter, where they sought somewhere sound enough to tether their horses. Nara had no need to do so as Brennus kept a tight grip on Eachna’s rein.
“Lorcan!” Brennus’s laughing tale was imparted deliberately across the clearing, loud enough for all around to hear. “You will be glad to hear your Selgovae captive did not succeed in her futile escape attempt.”
A glower, wild as a thunderstorm, raked her for long moments before Lorcan spoke to the warrior beside him, the torque and armbands adorning the young man proclaiming his rank at the crannog settlement.
Nara felt the back of her throat thicken as she tried to ignore the umbrage in Lorcan’s gaze, his saying nothing making failure feel even more acute. Anger she could rally against; ignoring her was more hurtful to her frayed emotions.
The ground Brennus then forced her over was solid underfoot, constructed of hard packed earth reinforced with binding materials to keep it firm. A timber walkway, some twenty paces long, led out across the lake water to platforms accommodating two crannog roundhouses with adequate space all around them. One dwelling was of the usual size; the other a smaller one for storage. Two horses were tethered alongside the smaller in a covered but wall-less enclosure. A forge just outside the larger roundhouse spewed out dense black smoke while a smith plied his craft, hammering a rhythmic ring-ting as he fashioned a metal tool.
Grond called out to the sweating smith Nara could see hunched over the anvil.
“Look after these horses for Lorcan. I will send a boy to help you. We go to see my father.”
Grond took another pathway leading out of the clearing, Lorcan following him. Just before they disappeared out of sight, Nara felt Lorcan’s gaze fleetingly alight on her, as though making sure she was still there. Though he was across the opened space, his eyes held hers in silent censure before he trudged on, the downturn of his lips marking his displeasure.
Willing herself not to be upset by it Nara pretended indifference…but it hurt to see condemnation in Lorcan’s eyes. And that was foolish. He was her enemy as much as every other Brigante around her.
Head down she trawled behind as the warrior-band followed Lorcan, making their way along another reinforced pathway and across a log causeway bordered by wattled walls. Brennus followed in her wake, taking his guarding seriously. Once into the open at the lake’s edge she could see the roundhouse they approached more clearly, no longer obscured by the tall reed and fronding light-green willow cover.
The crannog dwelling sat tall and proud, this one a little larger than a typical roundhouse. Built out over the water, its circular wooden platform sat on stilted foundations, the walkway access edged with a waist-high woven wall of willow, with an infill of thinner twigs. The wattle and clay daubed wall of the dwelling was low, no higher than Nara’s head, the thatched roof beams protruding over the top of it, creating a shady overhang. On the outer circular platform edge two children played a game on a wooden board with marked coloured stones. Close by, a young woman stood weaving at a tall upright loom under the overhang near the children. A little further round, Nara could just glimpse a skin-covered coracle and a dugout boat floating at a protruding landing stage, accessible from the platform edging.
“Mother,” Grond called ahead, “Lorcan is here to visit Father. Where is he?”
On their approach the children scurried away, an older woman appearing immediately. Then, more slowly, an older man whose smile was a beam of sunshine came out.
“Lorcan. Welcome!” The older man clapped Lorcan on the shoulders, greeting him warmly while he gave an invocation of hospitality to all. “It is long since we talked.”
“My thanks, Gyptus. It is good to be here again.”
Lorcan’s confident smile as he and Gyptus walked round to the landing-stage made Nara feel neglected. She wished the smile was for her, now her own situation was back to threatening. A lone Selgovae, she was surrounded by even more Brigantes; from the hostile look on their faces none happy with her presence.
The older woman begged the warrior band enter her dwelling. “Come please, all of you. My hearth is yours. Rest while I gather sustenance.”
Bringing up the rear with Brennus, Nara could see how extensive the settlement was as more than a few curious families clustered around their crannogs looking eagerly across the head of the lake waters, towards the newcomers. She followed the line of men, but at the low entrance tunnel Brennus pushed her to the side and stood guard. Wiping her hands on her tunic, feeling dirty and unkempt, she seethed alongside him.
A huddle of local men sped across the causeway, glancing at her briefly before they stooped to noisily enter the roundhouse, hauling Brennus along in tow.
No Brennus to guard?

Nancy Jardine's The Beltane Choice is available from Crooked Cat Books, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.