Wednesday 3 July 2019

The First Village #Blitz

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Historical Fiction
Date Published: March 2019
Publisher: Vanguard Press

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An entertaining and lively tale of love and ambition set around the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, AD 383 and the threats it brings to a dependent way of life. A strong backstory is the force of the new state religion, Christianity.

Wales AD 383 is the most remote province of Roman-occupied Britain, colonised for over 300 years. Magnus Maximus, known to the Celts as Macsen Wledig, has grown restless with his role as general of the Roman army in Britannia. His nights are broken by dreams of an impossibly beautiful Welsh maiden. He sets his sights on moving his legions out of Britannia to challenge Gratianus - the emperor of the Western Roman Empire.

Flavius Arcadius is less than enamoured by his general's plans. The army's withdrawal will leave his family, neighbours and all of Britannia unprotected and at the mercy of internecine conflict between the local tribes and the even greater threat of pagan invaders from the east. He does, however, have a vision for the future - a fortified villa surrounded by a self-sufficient community - if only he could find a way to stay behind when the legions move.

Flavius starts to plot...

Maximus is sufficiently in thrall to his fantasies to allow Flavius to set out with his two friends and fellow officers, Severus and Caradocus, to seek out, abduct and take this dream girl to him as his bride...

The three soldiers wander through the wilds of Cymru, intent only on delaying their return. To their astonishment, they come across a young woman who is the living image of Maximus's dream maiden. Flavius and Severus are determined to bring the girl, Elen, to Maximus. Caradocus, however, engineers their escape.

Elen's beauty is matched by her wit and intelligence; and her courage is demonstrated when she saves them both from capture. Before long, the two runaways are in love. But Caradocus and Elen are going to need more than their wits to survive, when they are being hunted - not just by Flavius and Severus, but by Elen's father and, for all they know, the full might of the Roman army...

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Chapter 39

Deus ex Machina

Sometimes circumstances force your hand, even though you have a general plan for future action. Elen’s conclusion that Villa Arcadius offered the only possible sanctuary was abruptly a stark reality now. She knew with certainty it was time to move—without a moment’s delay. Thank the Lord God, she thought, for Sioned and Meirion—for their loyalty, for their resourcefulness, and for their resilience, for now she needed their help even more than ever.

Although she and Caradocus had begun to establish themselves and were more financially secure, the growing state of chaos in the town had meant many ordinary household goods had been in short supply. Now, when it was necessary to sell the more valuable of their possessions, many other people had the same idea, and there was a glut of second-hand items everyone was trying to off-load to make themselves more mobile. The prices Elen could command for their bits and pieces were much lower than she’d hoped. Still, every nummus helped, silver was silver, and a sturdy horse was worth any price. The family needed reliable mounts, even an extra one for all the personal items they couldn’t bear to part with. Packing and getting ready for the long ride to Venta Silurum and the safety of the Villa Arcadius was frenzied, and the baby needed lots of attention—and entertainment—as well.

“What about Caradocus?” Sioned asked gently, during one awkward pause in all this activity.

“Our priest at the church has said he will take care of him, and would include Macsen, as he always calls him, in his daily prayers. I’m sure he will be well looked after. When we’re safely settled with the baby and all, we might try to come back and make sure.”

Sioned knew what she meant, and the two young women held hands, staring silently out the windows of the now empty house. They looked down to the courtyard where Meirion was busy fussing with the horses’ saddlebags and halters, and across the thatched rooftops and sooty chimneys of the surrounding dwellings. Elen could just make out the church where she and Caradocus had been married, with its rounded stone arches, ill-matching pillars, and red-tiled roof, in need of repair. Like every other Christian church around these parts, it was a hastily converted pagan temple, once dedicated to Jupiter. Caradocus and Elen had been amused by the irony of thinking that slapping a wooden cross on top of the highest arch transformed it into a Christian edifice, but now Elen saw that incongruity as a symbol of confusion—was it still the settlement of a tribe, a Roman frontier town, a legionary headquarters for military raids into Cymru, or a new Christian community? If the latter, why did death seem so omnipresent?

They rode out of the tall gates of the town, the civitas of the Cornovii before the sun had risen over the wide River Sabrina. It was a cool, foggy morning with gusts of a chilly wind and there was no-one around. Even so, Elen could not help looking behind her. Sioned wondered if she was worried about footpads, or fantasizing Caradocus galloping hard to catch up with them.

Fording the river at the first available shallows, Elen let the other two ride on ahead. She stared into the water just beginning to reflect the pale light of the coming dawn. She thought with terror of the rotting body of a would-be assassin, a monk, now wrapped in one of their blankets, along with two heavy stones, all tied up with the same twine that had once bound her husband’s wrists and ankles. He hated to throw away useful things. She shivered, but not from the cold wind that was stirring ripples on the river. She reached into the pocket of her dress and took out a gold coin—the solidus

About the author:

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Ian M. Evans is a British-born clinical psychologist who grew up South Africa. After completing a doctorate at King's College, London, his academic career has taken him to universities in Hawaii, New York, and New Zealand. A Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, his research and practice focused on emotional and family challenges for young people with disabilities. Ian lives with his wife in Honolulu, where their children, grandchildren, and friends love to visit. This is his second novel (following Forgive Me My Trespasses, Archway, 2015).

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