Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Nancy Jardine’s fabulous new book, Before Beltane. Enjoy.
Nara-Summoned to Swatrega
Nara pulled back the heavy leather cover that kept draughts from entering the roundhouse and ducked under it.
The first thing she noticed was the pall of aromatic smoke that lingered and danced high up in the roofbeams, and the heavy burning smell that permeated the dwelling. Swatrega and the priestess diviner had been casting prophecies.
At the far end of the large room, Swatrega sat alone in silence. The eyes of the High Priestess were closed, though Nara guessed the woman was not asleep. She stood awaiting the invitation to go further into the room. It came eventually, by which time Nara was feeling extremely unsettled, wondering what she could have done to merit the censure she now feared was coming to her.
“Come and sit by me, Princess Nara of Tarras.”
Swatrega’s tone was not angry. This disturbed Nara even more. The use of the term ‘princess’ was yet another reminder of her tribal status, and not a good sign at all.
Nara made her way to the end of the fireside, to a low-burning fire that gave out just enough heat to warm the priestess, who sat on the stool that had specially carved sides and was created for the one who led the order. Swatrega was enwrapped in a thick blanket of close-woven wool of a mud-brown colour, the material similar to the acolyte cloaks.
Only after Nara was settled on the short wooden bench beside her did Swatrega begin to speak again.
“You have been here for many seasons and, for my part, you have always given the impression that you would eventually rise to become one of our best priestesses.” Swatrega broke off, a gruff laugh coming unexpectedly.
Nara was dazed by the words, a sudden thrill overtaking her natural caution. Was she now to be given her final priestess rites? The elation she was feeling she quickly suppressed from sight – it was not a worthy trait under the eyes of the goddess.
She also knew it was not her place to answer…though it was her place to listen,
Swatrega broke eye contact, her focus on the doorway at the far end of the room. “In time, I had even envisaged that you might take my place, here at this priestess home.”
Once more Nara had to wait, confusion now reigning. The word ‘had’ that Swatrega used did not seem to indicate that she would remain at the nemeton. Did that mean she would leave and go to another priestess settlement? Nara’s head whirled. For some reason, conversations about other priestess villages had been rare, although a visiting priestess was not a completely unheard-of occurrence.
Talk with the High Priestess about her future had never transpired before. Many times Nara had wanted to ask why her final vows of the priestesshood had been delayed, and further delayed, yet it was never a conversation that she could start. When the goddess willed it, it would happen. She felt her eyes glisten as she focused on the hearth stones.
Was it about to happen now?
Nara listened to the huge sigh that came before Swatrega’s attention returned to her.
“Know now, Princess Nara of Tarras, that time will never ever come. You will never be a High Priestess at any sacred place. The goddess has spoken. She has prophesied a new pathway for you.”
“A new pathway?” Nara could not control the wobble in her voice that bordered on a squeal, and could only repeat Swatrega’s words. “What does that mean? I do not understand.”
“The goddess has newly spoken today. You must leave the Islet of the Priestesses. You have only a few things to claim as your own. You will collect them and leave now.”
“Leave? What have I done?” Nara was horrified. Dread cold replaced the heated excitement that she had been trying to suppress. “Why does the goddess not favour me? Why does she send me away?”
“Your future is freshly foretold, Nara of Tarras. You are no longer an acolyte of the priestesshood. You must take your place once again at your father’s side in his stronghold…as a woman of the people.”
Nara fell to her knees beside the High Priestess and grasped Swatrega’s thin and bony fingers, tears stinging and dripping from her chin. “I still do not understand your words. My father has never had any need of me at Tarras. He hates the very sight of me. Why must I return there?” Relentless tears continued to stream down Nara’s cheeks. “I have been a priestess in all except name for many seasons now, bar the final rites. Why cannot I continue? Even as I am now, still uninitiated?”
Soft pats at her cheeks only barely registered.
Swatrega’s tones softened, though the High Priestess did not properly claim her gaze. “The goddess Dôn has spoken – and as her servants – we must obey, Princess Nara. Your path is no longer as a priestess.”
Nara was distraught.
“But how can I now be a princess of the tribe at my father’s side? What shall I do?”
“The goddess Dôn has foretold that you will be the mother of a son who will become one of the greatest leaders the northern territories has ever known. In this time of great threat from the legions of the Roman Empire, the tribes of the north will desperately need strong men and women to defend our way of life.”
Nara could only gape, open mouthed. What Swatrega was saying was incomprehensible.
“Our forthcoming Beltane Festival will be a crucial time for you along your prophesied journey. Before then you must find a worthy warrior to sire your son. It cannot be just any man, but will be the one whose destiny is linked to yours. Pray to the goddess Dôn because she will always guide you.”
“A mother?” Nara was dumbfounded.
Swatrega’s expression lost its momentary softness. “You must leave immediately and prepare for your new future.”
Here’s the blurb:
Two lives. Two stories. One future.
AD 71 Northern Britannia
At the Islet of the Priestesses, acolyte Nara greets each new day eager to heal the people at Tarras Hillfort. Weapon training is a guilty pleasure, but she is devastated when she is unexpectedly denied the final rites of an initiated priestess. A shocking new future beckons for Princess Nara of the Selgovae…
In the aftermath of civil war across Brigantia, Lorcan of Garrigill’s promotion of King Venutius is fraught with danger. Potential invasion by Roman legions from the south makes an unstable situation even worse. When Lorcan meets the Druid Maran, the future foretold for him is as enthralling as it is horrifying…
Meet Nara and Lorcan before their tumultuous meeting of each other in The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of the acclaimed Celtic Fervour Series.
Available on #KindleUnlimited
Universal link: getbook.at/BBherenow
Meet the Author
Nancy Jardine lives in the spectacular ‘Castle Country’ of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Her main writing focus has, to date, been historical and time travel fiction set in Roman Britain, though she’s also published contemporary mystery novels with genealogy plots. If not writing, researching (an unending obsession), reading or gardening, her young grandchildren will probably be entertaining her, or she’ll be binge-watching historical films and series made for TV.
She loves signing/ selling her novels at local events and gives author presentations locally across Aberdeenshire. These are generally about her novels or with a focus on Ancient Roman Scotland, presented to groups large and small. Zoom sessions have been an entertaining alternative to presenting face-to-face events during, and since, the Covid 19 pandemic restrictions.
Current memberships are with the Historical Novel Society; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland, Romantic Novelists Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She’s self-published with the author co-operative Ocelot Press.
Connect with Nancy