Scene – the Bingergread Cottage, decorated for Yule. It is night and the fire is lit. Iamo is seated at the table and describes to us:
This is our first Yule celebration here with Scribe and her family so we were delighted when she invited her friend Nancy Jardine to bring two of her own characters to visit and join in our celebration. The two authors retired to chat in another room, leaving us with the roaring wood fire in the farmhouse kitchen.
Iamo : Come in, friends. Bran and Ineda, In the name of the Goddess be welcome at this hearth. I am Iamo and this is my wife Riga.
Bran: Our thanks to you, Iamo. I am Bran of Witton, formerly of the settlement of Garrigill. I am honoured to share your hearth at this mid-winter celebration time along with Ineda, my foster-sister, who hails from the hamlet of Marske.
Riga: Come on in, Ineda, Take a place here at the hearthside, you look frozen.
Ineda: What a fine welcome, Riga. It is so pleasing to be given such free hospitality.
Riga: You make it sound as though you have had some problems on your travels?
Bran: If I may answer, Riga? The roundhouse settlements and villages of our Brigante areas are not as they used to be. A fine welcome used to be usual amongst all Celts, but since the Roman usurpers have herded us like sheep into areas that they can monitor easily, everyone is now so wary of strangers. We have come upon this place where you live but have no knowledge of you. Who are you?
Iamo: I was a priest of the Great Mother for most of my life and Riga is a shaman. I take it you celebrate the Solstice.
Bran: Naturally, we do. We celebrate the time of the sun’s rebirth, but during the last few longest and shortest days we have rarely seen a druid to conduct our ceremonies.
Ineda: We manage as best we can without them, but it is so much more heartening to have them intercede with the gods and goddesses for us.
Riga : We shamans don’t celebrate gods and goddesses. Solstice and Equinox are astrological events and major changes in the year, so we honour those and anyway I love a good party. So how do you celebrate in your time?
Ineda: We brought this in for you.
Riga: A Yule log! Do you use this in your celebratory rites?
Ineda: Aye, indeed. Do you not burn the Yule offering? Have we mistakenly offended?
Iamo: Not at all, friends. Yes, it still exists but I would very much like to hear of your tradition. Please enlighten us.
Bran: By tradition the log was picked close to your door. We had to assume the land hereabouts belongs to you, as a Yule offering should be, and we gift you the ash maker having crossed your threshold.
Riga: This is fascinating. Please continue. What must we do with our own Yule log?
Ineda: Light it with your last embers from the year gone past and let it give new light to your fire for the next se’nnight, and then five more days after that. Store its warmth and light giving ashes and come the spring season mix them with the seeds for scattering on your fields. In this way, you will have prosperous continuity in this place you inhabit.
Iamo: I have read of this ancient ritual and accept your gift with great delight, but tell us more of your fascinating celebrations.
Bran: Like you, Riga, we also seek answers from the skies and watch the passage of the sun. In song and story, as did the ancients, we celebrate the death of winter darkness and hail the longer, warmer days to come when the earth is reborn. Our farmers eagerly await the yields to come from the fields. Feasting properly is not easy with the Roman scourge breathing down our necks but we do our best to honour Lugh, our god of the light as he returns to us, little by little.
Ineda: We were on our way to another village to celebrate the solstice with them but were followed by a Roman Patrol. It is the same contubernium group of soldiers which plagues my every step. We sought refuge in a cave but found the small cavern had an exit at the back which led here, to you.
Riga: Iamo! They’ve blundered into the cave threshold! Its astrological forces must have led them here. I thought I we were the only ones who knew about the portal.
Iamo : Yes, now we understand. It is very strong magic that brings you to us here in the twenty-first century. You must have been especially chosen ones. Not many see the threshold possibilities of the cave, and are able to pass through.
Riga: This is great! So, tell us! Why have you been chosen?
Ineda: Bran! They must mean whatever my grandmother, Meaghan, saw in you.
Bran: I know not why exactly, but the mother goddess selected me for a new life purpose. After the battle at Whorl, I was blessed with a new life. As you can see from the infirmities that I bear, I was sorely wounded not long ago. I was already past the place of the living and almost to the otherworld but Ineda’s grandmother, Meaghan, drew me back with her bountiful healing skills. She claimed I still have much to do in this plane for my tribe, and for all Celts of the northern climes. Together, Ineda and I are now doing everything we can to thwart the northwards progress of the Roman Empire. Our scribe Nancy Jardine’s newest tale charts our efforts in the lands around Brigantia, the second tale in her Celtic Fervour tribute to my Brigante Garrigill brothers. Then after that, before the next Beltane rites, we expect our adventures in the faraway lands of the Venicones and Taexali tribes to be spread around- the third chronicle of the Garrigill brothers.
Riga : Ah, I see. I too was hauled out of the next world, but that was by my husband here. His love brought me back. We’re staying here because our Scribe’s been writing our past history, also the second volume. Here, let me start serving the food. We have wild boar, it still exists here in France but not so much in Britain now. Iamo, here is your dish.
Bran: You do not eat the boar flesh? Boar, venison, other game flesh is eaten by our fellow Celts- though we do not feast on this every day! Our daily fare is more like the oatmeal dish we eat, or the barley brose, and the flat bread made from ground emmer grains. Sometimes we eat a stew of meat and some root vegetables- like turnips, or carrots – if they have stored well, or they have just been plucked from the field. Sorrel added or wild garlic gives more flavour.
Ineda: I love to eat fish caught fresh from a lake or river but my village of Marske did not lie next to one. It was a delight when I traipsed into the forest with my grandmother, where she taught me how to collect and use her special healing herbs. We also caught fish and made a meal of it before returning home.
Iamo: Those are lovely memories. You will do that again when you return?
Ineda: Never again. Meaghan is gone to the other world and the Roman scum watch our every step!
Riga: The Romans stop you fishing and hunting? That’s despicable. You need a Black Shaman on your side!
Bran: No. We can still do it, though we are always observed. They pounce if more than a couple of warriors go on the hunt. Our fare at Witton is meagre. Our warriors hunt and farm very well but the Roman Empire extracts their cut of our food stocks leaving us to almost starve over the winter season.
Iamo : In this century we are fortunate to have food to hand so easily. Unfortunately this means that animals raised for meat are not always well-treated so out of respect for their spirits Scribe and I do not eat them. Riga, as you can see from the way she tucks in, adores her carnivore habits!
Ineda: In our own way, we honour the forest family of Cernunnos, our forest god. We hunt and kill what we need and leave the rest to grow healthily. If that honour was not given, I can understand why you choose not to eat their flesh.
Riga : I see you looking around, Bran. Do you like the decorations? I went out this morning and “brought in the green”. That is the right expression, isn’t it, Iamo? I cut down the branches after honouring the spirits of the tree but Iamo had to put them on the walls for me as he’s so much taller. Now – who is going to bless the cup? I’m not a priestess. Ineda, can you do it? Iamo was a priest so he can do the man’s part. If necessary we can ask Scribe to come, she is consecrated as a High Priestess.
Ineda: I am a trained healer but not an acolyte of the goddess. I know the words we use, but that is all of my knowledge of the ritual. I am very honoured to be invited, though.
Riga: Scribe! Can you come to say the words? I can? OK – if you are sure. She says it is a good heart that counts, not a badge of office. She’s like that. Very practical sort of druid.
Iamo: This cup is the cauldron of Cerridwen, the womb of the mother, from whence comes all life.
Riga: I raise my dagger. This is the staff of life, the Horned Lord, without whose seed the womb of the mother is barren and sterile. By this union, Goddess and Lord, may this wine be blessed and sacred. Bran – in perfect love and in perfect trust, drink.
Iamo: When we have eaten we can do the ritual of the light. I do not suppose you would do that? In these days when there is light all the time with their magic of technology, modern pagans sit in total darkness for a few minutes, reflecting on why we celebrate Solstice, what the return of the sun means and how it brings life back to the Earth. Those of us who are Goddess-born will remember the birth of the Child of Light who will grow to be the Horned Lord for the coming year.
Ineda: Bran can entertain us, if you would like it. He has a very fine singing voice and plays well too.
Riga: Do you need to borrow an instrument, Bran?
Bran: I have my ocarina, if that will please you?
Iamo: Indeed it would! After that, perhaps a few words will be spoken and a light is carried through every part of the house with the company following it, symbolising the longer days, the return of the sun and the hope of a prosperous harvest and good year.
Bran: Ineda and I would like to thank you very much indeed, Iamo and Riga, for your wonderful hospitality. May the gods and goddesses bless you with good tidings in the coming moons. I wish also much success for both my scribe Nancy Jardine, and your scribe Ailsa Abraham. May their efforts bear fruit and be highly rewarding for them. We send congratulations for successful launches of their newest works of fiction.
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After Whorl: Bran Reborn:
Ravaged by war
…AD 71. After the battle at Whorl, Brennus of Garrigill is irrevocably changed.
Returning to Marske, Ineda finds her grandmother dead, though Brennus is not. Snared by a Roman patrol, they are marched to Witton where he is forced to labour for the Roman IX Legion.
Embracing his new identity as Bran, Brennus vows to avert Roman occupation of northernmost Brigantia. Ineda becomes his doughty spying accomplice, though sometimes she’s too impetuous. Trading with the Romans lends excellent opportunities for information gathering. Over time, Bran’s feelings for Ineda mar with his loyalty to Ineda’s father.
When she disappears, and cannot be found, Bran enters direct service with Venutius, King of the Brigantes.
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Nancy Jardine lives in the fantastic ‘castle country’ of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband. She spends her week making creative excuses for her neglected large garden; doesn’t manage as much writing as she always plans to do since she’s on Facebook too often, but she does have a thoroughly great time playing with her toddler granddaughter when she’s just supposed to be ‘just’ childminding her twice a week.
A lover of all things historical it sneaks into most of her writing along with many of the fantastic world locations she has been fortunate to visit. Her published work to date has been two non fiction history related projects; two contemporary ancestral mysteries; one light-hearted contemporary romance mystery and a historical novel. She has been published by The Wild Rose Press and Crooked Cat Publishing.