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Author Barbara Korsness
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Crimson Dawn Chapter One

 

                                                                 Chapter One       

 


Taryn awoke to the sharp smell of burning wood.  Untangling herself from her wool blanket she leaped from her sleeping pallet and scurried into the main room of the cottage.  A light haze of smoke hovered in the air.  It came from the cooking fire in the center of the room where a pot of porridge hung over the flames steaming.  Where was her mother?  She crossed the room to check her parent’s sleeping quarters.  The floor of hard packed earth was cool against her soles.  Peeking through the curtained doorway she saw that the room was empty.  Most of the smoke had risen and disappeared through the hole in the roof, but enough remained to irritate Taryn’s eyes, so instead of waking her brothers, she made a detour and headed for the oak door and threw it open to let in some fresh air.

 A quiet morning light spilled through the doorway as she stepped outside.  Taking a deep breath, she filled her lungs to clear the mist of sleep from her mind.  She became fully awake when her bare foot brushed against the soft fur of an animal.  Bending down to get a closer look, her heart skipped a beat.  It was a dead hare, a sacred animal of the Celts.  This was a bad omen, bad indeed.


Ri, the wolf she raised from a cub, had left her another gift, but this time his token of affection would cause trouble for both of them.  She must hide the carcass before anyone learned of it.  The villagers of Dun Brie were afraid of Ri, and several days ago she had overheard villagers treating to depose of the wolf.  Peering down the dirt road that ran in front of the cottage, she checked in both directions making sure that she was not seen, before cautiously picking up the hare by its long ears.  She cradled it in the folds of her shift and sidled along the wall of the cottage and into the back garden.  If she buried it there, no one would ever learn what had happened. 

Sinking to her knees Taryn placed the dead animal, the body already stiff, next to her mother’s favorite rose bush and dug a shallow hole with her hands. She laid the hare in the soft earth, covered it with dirt, and smoothed the soil carefully so no one would notice.

 While she put the finishing touches to the grave a shadow fell over her.  Looking up, she saw her father, his muscular arms folded across a broad chest that had been formed from years of hammering iron at a forge.  Obsidian eyes peered at her from under dark brows and his mouth was fixed in a stony frown.   A knot twisted in her stomach.  How much had he seen?   With shaking fingers she brushed a wisp of chestnut hair out of her eyes and gave him an innocent smile. 

 “Come into the house, Taryn,” he said in a stern voice.  “I wish to speak to you.”

Following him inside, she plopped down at the wooden table where her two brothers were busy eating the hot grain cereal their mother had prepared.


 Vahan motioned to his wife to join them. Taryn adored her mother. She was small, slender and had retained her youthful figure even though she was close to forty. The stories she told enthralled Taryn for hours. Beth replaced a wisp of her red-gold hair as she sat next to her husband, and Taryn noticed sadness in her mother’s jade eyes.

 Once the family was assembled around the table, Vahan addressed them. “Your mother and I received a message from her cousin Boudicca early this morning. Since the death of her husband, the Romans have caused her nothing but misery. Now that she is the queen of the Iceni, her alliance with Rome is in danger.  She has asked me to come and speak with her.” 

Tears welled up in Beth’s eyes.  “Poor Boudicca, she loved her husband very much.  He was a good king and a good man.”

“I know,” Vahan sighed running his hand through his dark curly hair.  “And, although she has inherited great wealth, her husband has also left her with a large responsibility.  Ruling the Iceni will be no easy task.”

Vahan turned to Brian.  Taryn’s brother stopped chewing and fixed his hazel eyes on his father, giving him his full attention.


“I want you to look after your mother while I am gone.  I plan to be away for several weeks.  If anyone in the village needs the use of a metal smith, you have been trained well enough to take care of any repairs that come up.  And stay away from the tavern.”

Taryn noticed the mischief in her brother’s eyes as he popped a piece of bread into his mouth and agreed to his father’s orders.  She knew he had no intention of staying away from Dun Brie’s one and only tavern.  When the tavern girls saw Brian they fell all over him; he thrived in their adoration.  She had to admit there were few women who wouldn’t be attracted to his tall muscular frame.  He was a hand span taller then their father and his sun browned skin gave him a hearty look.  But what charmed the women more then anything, including his mother, was his smile.  Taryn had learned long ago not to let him captivate her with that smile.  She had become immune to his engaging ways. 


 Brian spent his days training chariot horses at the Colin stead a mile from the village, but in the evenings he enjoyed his visits to the Boar’s Head Tavern and Inn.  Often before the night was over, Brian would become involved in a fight.  Usually it was over a woman. Her father tolerated most of these indiscretions, but to Vahan’s dissatisfaction, Brian’s best friend was a Roman legionnaire by the name of Marcus Flavious.  The young soldier was stationed at the fort just outside their village.  Now there was a man that could charm her with his smile.   His blue-grey eyes were soft as dove feathers, but she had seen him angry once and those eyes turned to iron.   Most of the time, he was gentle and shy around her.

Her father would be furious if he knew that she met with Marcus several times a week in the tavern.  She would sit in a corner with him while he taught her to speak, read, and write Latin.

Smiling warmly, Vahan addressed Connor next.  “I know you will be gone by the time I return, and I want to wish you a safe journey.”


Taryn would miss Connor.  His boyish good looks attracted many of the young women of the village, those more lady-like then Brian associated with, but his interest lay elsewhere.  His jade eyes sparkled when he smiled at Vahan.  A shaft of sun pierced through a small opening in the straw thatched roof, spilling onto Connor’s chestnut hair, giving it a glow like burnished copper.  She and Connor not only looked alike, they thought alike.  They had a special bond known only to twins, but his thirst for knowledge ran in a different direction then hers. In several days Connor would return to his studies on the Isle of Anglesley, the learning center of the Druids.  The island sat in the sea off the coast of the Welsh wilderness and was a days journey north by boat.  Connor had joined the Druids as a novice at the age of sixteen and had been studying with them for four years.  At the school he studied the many oral teachings of the Druid way of life.  Nothing was written.  Everything was retained in the memories of the priests and their novices.  It would take twenty years for her brother to learn all that they had to teach.

Finally her father faced Taryn.  “As for you, my daughter, I want you to get rid of that wolf before I return.  I don’t care how.  The villagers of Dun Brie are frightened of him.”

Taryn moved uneasily in her seat.  So he had seen her bury the hare. “But, father, he has harmed no one.”

“Not yet.  You never know when a wild animal will turn on you, no matter how gently treated.  If our neighbors knew that Ri had killed a sacred hare, they would have slain him by now.  It is better to rid the village of him before that happens.”

Taryn bowed her head to hide her tears.  “Yes, father.”


After the family meeting, Taryn returned to the garden and perched on its stone wall to ponder her problem.  She certainly did not want to destroy the wolf.  He had grown into a beautiful silver-grey beast with glowing amber eyes.  He was only a few weeks old when she found him alone and starving under a large oak tree in the forest.  She had brought him home and named him Ri, King.   That was nine months ago.  Now he was full grown with a healthy appetite.  Although the wolf spent most of his time in the forest now, he adored Taryn and came into the village to visit her several times a week.  Lately he had been bringing her gifts.  The last one was a big mistake.

Maybe if she took him far into the forest, miles away and left him....  She shook her head.  That would not work.  He would only follow her back to the village.  She sighed deeply.  What should she do?

Taryn felt eyes on her and turned to face Connor.

“I think I have a solution,” he said as though he was able to read her thoughts.  “Travel to Anglesley with me.  We will go by foot and bring Ri with us.  Along the way we will leave him in the forest.  If he tries to follow us, he will only wander further from Dun Brie.  When you leave Anglesley, return to the village by boat.”

Taryn nodded thoughtfully.  “That is a wonderful idea.  It will give me a chance to spend more time with the both of you.”

              


Two days later, Taryn and Connor set out on their journey with Ri trailing behind.  The early morning mist glided along the ground and twisted around the bases of the towering oaks. With each step the travelers took, it swirled surrounding them as they picked their way through the forest. Each footstep left prints in the dew-covered grass and leaves.   The late summer air was damp, with a slight chill, and Taryn drew her cloak tighter around her shoulders.

It would be a long trek.  If they walked steadily from daylight to dusk with only a short break for lunch, the journey would take four days.

 To pass the time more quickly, Taryn asked her brother about his studies. 

 “Some things are too sacred to repeat outside the holy community,” he told her.  “We hold long discussions about the heavenly bodies and their movements. We study the size of the universe, the earth and the physical construction of our world, as well as the powers of the gods.”

“Are there many women at the school?” Taryn asked.

“Only a few.  Did you know that our mother’s cousin Boudicca is a practicing Druid priestess?”

“I have heard such a thing.  Do you think that is why the Romans are harassing her?”


Connor helped Taryn over a log that lay across their path before he answered.  “I don’t believe that is the reason.  The Romans have not interfered with the Druids so far.  If we do not show disrespect for their gods, they leave us alone.  I think the conflict between Rowan and the Romans has to do with money.  She is quite wealthy since the death of the king.  The Roman governor is trying to raise her taxes and thinks he will get away with it. He does not realize how formidable a Celtic woman can be.  Many have proven to be great warriors, fighting alongside their men.”

Taryn contemplated this as they trekked northward through the forest.  She did not know what she wanted for the future. Settling down as some one’s wife did not appeal to her.  At least not now, if she could become a warrior....


On the second day of their journey, Taryn and Connor came upon a sacred oak grove.  It was dense and ancient, untouched by human hands.  The trees made a canopy over them so thick that the pale light only increased the awe of the shrine. In reverence for her surroundings, Taryn was afraid to speak.  She sat down on the grass in silence to watch her brother quietly stroll toward a giant oak. The gnarled trunk rooted in the soft ground twisted skyward, its branches elevated in prayer.  Connor raised his arms as if to embrace it and chanted a prayer. How different he was from her oldest brother Neil, and his younger brother Brian.  Neither one had an interest in religion and the beauties of nature.  When Connor rejoined her, they silently continued on their way.  Several hours passed, and they came to a fallen log next to a stream.  The warm sun filtered through a filigree of leaves and branches, dappling the ground with spots of gold.

“I ‘m hungry, Connor; let’s stop here and eat,” Taryn said.  She removed her cloak, spread it on the log, and sat down.  Opening a knapsack, Connor pulled out bread and fruit.

While they sat eating, Conner told her more of what he had learned at the school.  “Did you know that the ancient Druids, in the early mist of time, set out sacred groves to worship the One True God?  Back then, they believed in only one God.”

Taryn chewed on a piece of bread thoughtfully.  “Is it the same God that father’s ancestors worshiped?”

Conner shrugged.  “I do not know.  It would be interesting to know if there is a connection.”

 Taryn threw bits of bread at Ri, who snapped them up in mid air.  She knew the wolf must be hungry and would go off to hunt soon.


After they had rested a while, Taryn and Connor headed northwest along the stream with Ri padding along in front of them.  Suddenly the wolf stopped, and Taryn almost tripped over him.  A low growl vibrated in the animal’s throat. Connor grabbed Taryn’s arm and pulled her down behind a pile of dead fall.  Call Ri, and quiet him before a spear finds its mark.”

 The wolf came to her summons, and while speaking to him in whispered tones, she shoved him down onto his stomach. The sound of hoof beats and jangling bridles traveled through the trees.  Peering through the branches of the fallen logs, they saw a troop of ten armed legionaries ride into view.  Dressed in red tunics and bronze armor, they sat straight in their saddles and spoke back and forth to one another in curt tones.  Soon they disappeared in the direction from which Taryn and Connor had just come.

Conner let a deep breath escape.  “What are the Romans doing this far north?”

“I do not know,” Taryn replied. “I did not recognize any of them as being from the fort. Their shields carried the crest of a legion assigned east of here.  That is where the Iceni tribe has settled.  When I return to Dun Brie, I will ask Marcus.”

“Are you still meeting with him?”

“Only to learn how to read and write.”

“Pah! All that we learn, we can keep in our heads.  It is better that way,” Connor said.


            “But mother tells so many stories of Ancient times.  If I could write them down....”

“You can remember them as well as she can.”

“What if a Roman spear kills me?  All those wonderful stories would die with me.”

Connor shrugged.  “Then Brian will pass them on.”       

Taryn became annoyed.  “Brian could care less about preserving any story unless it involved him and a tavern girl.”

Standing, Connor brushed dried leaves from his tunic.  “I think it’s safe to go now.”

Taryn took a few steps to follow her brother and noticed that Ri was missing. 

“He has probably gone off to hunt,” Conner said with a grunt.  “Take your shoes off.  We will wade upstream for a few miles so the wolf will lose our scent.”

It was the middle of the fourth day when Taryn and Connor reached the edge of the sea.  There was a dock and several small boats sitting along the shore.  A larger merchant vessel was tied at the end of a wooden pier.  Looking around, Taryn realized they had successfully evaded the wolf, and she missed him terribly.


A short squat man lumbered toward them.  He had long russet hair tied back with a leather thong.   His sienna eyes sparkled when he clasp Connor’s fore arm and greeted her brother like a long-lost friend.

Conner smiled and turned to his sister.  “Taryn, I want you to meet Egan.  When merchant boats arrive from Glastonbury, he delivers the supplies to our island.”   

            Egan nodded toward the small ship docked at the end of the pier.  There is one here now. “You will sail home on the Raven in the morning.  It is a coastal trader between here and Glastonbury.”  It was smaller then the merchant ships that sailed from Rome or Gaul and sometimes docked at Glastonbury, the harbor town near Taryn’s village. 

Egan returned his attention to Connor.  “The Druid priest Fionn has asked me to take you and your sister to Anglesley.”

Taryn shot Connor a questioning look. “How did the priest know that I would be with you?”

Conner smiled broadly at his sister. “Fionn is a very wise priest and seems to know everything.”

“I am relieved that I will be welcomed in the Druid community.  Not many are invited, and I was not sure they would allow me on the island.”


“Why would I have you pack your best dress if you were not allowed to meet the Druid high priest?”

They shoved the coracle into the water and climbed in.  It was a small round-bottomed boat made of animal hides stretched over a wicker frame.  After a few minutes of rowing, the boat scraped the shores of Anglesley.  Connor helped Taryn onto the soft sand, where small sea birds pecked at bits of food pulled in by the surf. 

Egan pushed the coracle back into the water and called to Taryn as he left.  “I will be here in the morning to pick you up,”

A forest of tall pines lined the shore like soldiers at attention. Taryn followed Conner along a trail that wound through pines, oaks, and ash.  They passed a sacred grove where a stone altar stood under a gnarled oak.  In the approaching dusk, the giant tree cast a long shadow


 Rounding a bend, they stepped out into a large clearing where the Druid settlement nestled.  It reminded Taryn of Dun Brie, before the Romans had come.  After building a fort near her village, the Romans added their own buildings to accommodate the soldiers from the fort.  The farmers around Dun Brie had always been self sufficient, their only needs coming from her father’s metal smith shop and the farmer’s market where they gathered to trade one day a week.  The Romans had added a bakery, a tavern and inn, as well as several shops to the village. Although Roman rule restricted the way of life her people once knew, most Celts felt it was worth the benefits the village received.  Vahan was less receptive to the Roman’s presence, for he had moved to Albion to flee from their rule in Jerusalem.

A Druid novice in long white robes met Taryn and Connor at the entrance of the settlement and escorted them to a cottage where Taryn would spend the night. 

Giving them a respectful nod the druid spoke. “Fionn wants you both to meet him in the great hall for the evening meal.”

After Connor had settled his sister into a guest cottage, he headed for the door.  “I have some errands and want to stop by my living quarters before dinner. Come to the great hall as soon as you change.”

Taryn dug through her knapsack and found a soft wool dress her mother had made for her.  It was sea green and complimented her jade eyes and chestnut hair.  For everyday use, Taryn preferred to wear a long tunic, but this was a special occasion.  She would be dining with the Druid high priest. 


In the soft candlelight she looked around the room.  It was wattle and daub, the same as her cottage at home.  The walls were constructed of poles woven with twigs, reeds, and branches.  These were covered with a mixture of clay and mud.  In the middle of the room was a fireplace. Looking up, she gazed at the hole in center of the roof where the smoke would escape and noticed how dark the sky had gotten.   Quickly she put the finishing touches to her hair with a wooden comb and headed for the great hall.  She had no problem finding her way.  The building was long and rectangular and sat in the center of the village.  It seemed that all the streets in the village led to the building the Druids used during the day for studies and in the evenings for eating.     Taryn entered through a large oak door.   Crossing the room, she joined Conner and the Druid high priest Fionn at a wooden table near the fire.  Other diners sat at tables along the walls and spoke in soft tones.  Their voices droned around her like bees on a quiet summer afternoon. 

The table she sat down to was covered with fresh fruit, nuts, cheese, and bread.  A platter in the center was piled with slabs of venison. After eating cold food on the trail for four days, Taryn savored the hot fresh meat and bread.

“We grow all our own food on the island,” the high priest said with pride.  “When we feel the need for wild game, we send several of our novices to the mainland to hunt.”


Taryn bit into an apple and wiped away the juice running down her chin with her fingertips.  “This is truly a beautiful and peaceful place.  I regret that I can stay but one day.  There is so much to learn here.” 

“That there is,” replied Connor.  “But I doubt you would enjoy spending many years here.  Your spirit is too restless for such a peaceful way of life.”

By the time they had finished the meal, the hall was empty, and two novices had cleared their table, leaving a pitcher of mead and three cups.  Sitting close to the fire, they drank the mead and talked.  The priest looked ancient with the shadows dancing on his snow-white beard and long hair.  His misty blue eyes smiled at her, and his soft voice lulled her into a sense of peace as he spoke.  “Have you ever been to Stonehenge?” 

Taryn shook her head.

“Conner must take you there for the summer solstice.  It is one of our most holy days.”

Taryn had heard of the great circle of stones.  It had been a place of worship for the people of ancient times, and she had always been fascinated by stories about the place.

She turned to her brother.  “Will you take me to see it someday?”


“I promise,” he replied, raising his hand in the manner of an oath.

“No matter what happens?  The last time you promised to take me to visit Neal in Eire, you left me behind.”

“That could not be helped.  Fighting was going on there, and Mother did not want you involved.  This time I will keep my promise even if I have to come back from the dead.”

The thought sent a cold shiver through Taryn. “Don’t say such a thing; it frightens me.” 

She decided to change the subject and turned her attention to the Druid high priest.  “Connor told me that at one time the Druids worshiped only one God.”

“Yes, the ancient ones believed in a creator who could not be seen by man.  He dwells in a place where God alone can exist, yet he is everywhere.”

“My mother spoke of such a God. Taryn said. He was worshiped by my father=s people.  Their first priest was a man by the name of Abraham.”

Fionn nodded.  “The Druids of the past said that Abraham was an ancient Druid priest who worshiped this God.   He sacrificed animals to his God in the same way we make sacrifices today.  The difference now is that we worship many gods.”


Taryn pondered this information for a minute and decided that the God of her father’s people and that of the ancient Druids must be the same. But one thing bothered her.  “Did Abraham sacrifice humans like some of our Druid sects?”

“No,” Fionn replied.  AThere was a time when Abraham’s God asked him to sacrifice his son but at the last moment stopped him.  From that day forward, his God has not required human sacrifice.  Although the Druids of our community discourage human sacrifice, it is practiced in Gaul and some sections of Albion.@

The old man stopped talking and studied first Connor then Taryn for a long time.  Finally he spoke.  “Because you were born on the nameless day, you have a spiritual awareness between each other.”

Taryn nodded thoughtfully.  He was right about her and Connor’s birth date.  They were born on December twenty-third.  It was known as the nameless day because it was outside the thirteen month year and was not ruled by trees.   A spiritual awareness did exist between herself and Connor.  She and her twin brother seemed to be able to communicate though no words passed between them.  Had Fionn sensed this, or had Connor told him?


The high priest stood.  Shadows from the flickering firelight danced on his face and in his eyes.  He reached out and grasped Taryn’s hand to hold in his own.  AI must go now.  I will not see you in the morning and wish you a safe journey home.” 

As he held her hand, she felt tingling sensation serge through her body.

 “You will see the coming of the Crimson Dawn of a new era,” he continued.  “It will engulf our present beliefs but not totally destroy them.”  He gave her hand a squeeze.  “Good night, my dear.  Good night Connor.”

“He is a strange man,” Taryn said after the priest had left the room.  “Do you understand what he is talking about?”

“Not entirely,” replied Connor.  “I know he believes the worship of one God will return to our people some day and change the way of the Druids.  As for the crimson dawn, I don’t know what he means by that.” Conner got to his feet and helped Taryn up.  “It is growing late.  Come, let us retire.  You have an early day tomorrow.”


Taryn did not see a sunrise at dawn.  The skies were leaden and a drizzle soaked the earth.  Connor walked with her to the shore where Egan greeted her and helped her into the coracle. She waved good-bye to her brother and watched the mist swallow him as they drew further from the island’s shore. When Egan beached the small boat on the main land, he escorted her to the Raven.  It would take her down the coast to Glastonbury in half the time it took Taryn and Conner to walk to Anglesley.  She was grateful to her brother for choosing the land route so that she was able to leave her wolf in the forest without a problem.

The Raven slipped away from the small wooden dock.  Entering the current, the ship’s bow lifted as the wind caught the unfurled sail.   Taryn looked forward to the summer solstice at Stonehenge and the next time she would see Connor.