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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

First Chunk

I'm publishing some of my efforts just as they come out.
This is un-edited first draft. It may never get beyond this stage anyway, but it's how I write!
This is a 'Young Adult' novel.


The Speaking Tree

……………At first it was hard to see, but slowly her eyes adjusted. The light came from torches tied to spears and the central fire flared as fat from the bones thrown on it caught. The room was large but it was full. Dogs squabbled in the gloom. Slaves moved around the walls. They carried glistening sacks from which came sweet smelling drink. She could smell sweat and urine; she could feel the heat. There seemed to be no women present. The space around the fire was packed with men. Their eyes glittered and their teeth shone when they laughed. There was a lot of laughter, there was plenty of talk too, but she couldn’t make out what they said. She realised that some of the words were slurred anyway. Some men were propped against pillars; they gazed blurrily at their friends and waved their hands in the gestures drunks use instead of speech. She watched as one man pushed himself upright and vomited towards the fire while at the same time, he held his cup out for more drink. His neighbours laughed as the nearest slave refilled the man’s cup. The smell of sour milk carried to her.

She’d decided by now that no woman would be safe here. These were dangerous men. They all looked alike. Their eyes were hard. Their hair was black and curled tightly. They all wore beards and their arms were sinewy and scarred. She didn’t like what she saw.

Surely this vision would fade soon! But the smells grew sickly strong, the heat was oppressive and the hubbub rose ever louder.

Then one voice came through the din, not loud but clear and strong. All the faces turned in one direction. She hadn’t seem this area of the room before but now she could see that there was a clear space behind one man sat upright on a fur-draped chair. There were slaves standing at either side of him.

He was big, not a giant but a man of great height. His chest was broad and his shoulders far apart. His clothes were the same as the other men; his hair and beard were as dark as the others, but he had an aura of command. That voice; she didn’t know what he was saying but the sound held her attention.
The man held a dagger in one huge hand. He had paused to speak in the act of spearing a chunk of meat.

She saw now that his eyes were clear and that he was looking straight across the fire in her direction. ………….

Chapter One

Lucilla yawned as she walked towards the boats. Her mother was still inside the port master’s house so Lucilla didn’t bother to cover her mouth. It was that kind of morning; lazy and stretchy. She could feel warm sun on her back although ahead the sea’s edge was grey and there was mist rolling across the water.

It had rained yesterday and the sun brought out the smell of damp earth. Lucilla sniffed and smiled. She loved days like this, but they seemed rare in this land.
Lucilla was a native of Rome and had spent little time outside the city before her mother had married Julius. In the last year she’d come to love fresh air and open spaces. It was so different here, maybe it was better than Rome? Lucilla pushed this treacherous thought aside. If her step-father felt that Lucilla was becoming a tom-boy like Drusilla he would send her back to Italy immediately.

Julius had said that Drusilla would never get a husband because she was far too independent. He’d criticised Kalliste for bringing her eldest daughter up as if she were a boy. However Julius Agrippa approved of Lucilla. He was sure she would catch the attention of a suitable young officer in the Legion or better still in the regional capital at Sulis.

Sulis had proved a disappointment to Lucilla. She’d been told how fast the city was growing, due in large measure to the patronage of Roman citizens from all over the southern part of this land. The waters from the springs were sacred and health giving, or so it was said. Lucilla thought they stank and her health needed no supplements anyway. It was true that there’d been plenty of people in Sulis but most of them had been fat merchants.

Lucilla was interested in thin men. She was thirteen years old and had decided that she could afford to wait a year or two if the men of Sulis were typical of the available males in Brittania.
Lucilla had asked Drusilla’s opinion, but Drusilla had muttered something about the fine Arab mares that she’d seen at the horse fair and Lucilla realised that her sister hadn’t even noticed the lack of suitable men.

Lucilla sighed. She loved Drusilla and thought she was brave and clever, but she could be extremely boring.

By now Lucilla had reached the beach. On close inspection the beach turned out to be a mud bank and Lucilla teetered on the grass. She had no wish to get mud on her slippers, but she did want to see the ships better. She liked ships. Her father had been Commander of a fighting galley and she liked to imagine that he wasn’t dead, but instead was sailing the wild oceans. One day he would come back and take Lucilla away to an exotic land where Fauns played and Nymphs made music. Lucilla would find her True Love there and everything would be right with the World.

“Lucilla. Lucilla Come here at once.”
Kalliope her nurse was yelling and waving from the portmaster’s verandah.

“We’ll be leaving shortly and your mother doesn’t want you looking like a ragamuffin. Come quickly Lucilla”.

For a slave Kalliope had a domineering manner. She had been bought as a child companion for Kalliste nearly thirty years earlier. She’d stayed on as a personal maid. Then she’d nursed Drusilla when she was a baby and Lucilla after her. Kalliope was given great control over the daily lives of Kalliste’s daughters and Kalliope was the final arbiter on all matters of appearance and manners.

Lucilla waved and started to walk back to the house.


Drusilla heard Kalliope yelling at Lucilla. It was a relief to find that she was not the target for the little woman’s wrath, at least not yet.

Drusilla had also snuck out of their quarters. She had been eager to see the sun rise this morning.
She settled herself on a wall and hugged her shawl closer to her.

For the first time in weeks Drusilla felt excited. She wanted to get to the fortress. Drusilla wasn’t anxious to see her stepfather. She knew Julius’ opinion of her too well. She wanted to see the local tribes.
Drusilla had been asking about the Silures ever since she’d arrived at Isca in the Spring. There were plenty of native Britons to be seen near the great fortress at Isca Dumnoniorum and Drusilla had been intrigued to meet people so different with their tempestuous history and uncivilised behaviour.

The Dumnonii were interesting. Drusilla liked the confident way the women walked around the settlement with small children scampering behind them. These people were easy in their manner. They carried their heads high and looked straight through Drusilla. The men of the tribe had been harder to see, they spent a lot of time hanging around in groups that were always at the edge of the town. Whenever a roman patrol came by these little knots of men would fade further into the background. The women would tease the soldiers and the men always seemed to disappear.

The salacious stories she’d heard from Kalliope of naked fighting men had not interested her, but Drusilla had been captivated by talk of the Druids. In the lands of the Dumnonii she’d seen no Druids, but she fully expected her hopes would be fulfilled here in this wilder land.

Drusilla knew she wasn’t a typical Roman girl, nor would she ever be. Her mother was Greek, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, which was a handicap to marriage in the higher circles of Roman life. Her father had died when Drusilla was a baby. He’d been a sickly man and although he had been of good family he’d never been strong enough to join the army or spend time in Rome making friends with the powerful. He’d lived on his country estates and Kalliste had been fetched sight unseen to marry him after reports of her beauty had encouraged Drusus Magnus to get himself an heir.

After his death Kalliste had been assigned a guardian because she’d inherited Drusus’ lands. With her beauty and her wealth Kalliste had soon been married off again, to the man who had fathered Lucilla before he’d been lost at sea.

Drusilla had been brought up as if she had been the male heir her father had demanded of Kalliste. Drusilla had learnt to read and write. She kept her mother’s correspondence for her. She knew about horses because Drusus had kept a fine stable. She had learnt the history of Rome and it’s conquests. She’d learnt the laws of Rome and all the skills that a son would need so that her mother could ask any fact of Drusilla and her daughter could fill the lack in her mother’s education.

Drusilla knew that her mother had fallen in love with Lucilla’s father and Lucilla was her mother’s delight, but she knew that she was the one Kalliste relied on and this gave her some comfort................

1 comment:

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