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Christopher J Pine : Pathways of the Druids

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It was indeed a cold, bleak dawn that awoke him from a troubled sleep. The damp air had made the night cold and unpleasant. The druid Mestrathax was glad it was now morning as he threw off his wolf pelts, and went to wash and awaken his druid companions.

          They were accompanying the Ordoveteii tribe. Having made an alliance with another tribe, the Bolasates, as a combined force they’d engaged an entire Roman legion, the Ninth Hispania. After a savage battle of a day and a night they had succeeded in destroying them by ambushing them in the woods. The legion’s eagle and standards had been taken as war trophies by the Celtic tribes.

          The Roman commander, Petilius Cerealis, had fled with what remained of his cavalry back to their entrenchments. The procurator of the province, Catus Decianus, had also fled to Gaul in panic and Rome was now being routed from Britannia.

          This action had freed the northern territories from Roman rule. Another Roman legion, the Second Augusta, had just locked themselves inside their own fort to avoid battle and now waited to see the turn of events. The Ordoveteii were returning home to their own lands before continuing the war to free their island from Roman rule. The Roman plans to destroy the druids and wipe out all traces of their religion, to halt the worship of their gods and cut down their ancient sacred groves of trees, had left the druids no choice but to raise a rebellion.

          Mestrathax was a short man and a little overweight, his silver flowing hair and moustache a little unkempt. His eyes were a cold light blue and they hid a great depth of knowledge. He was dressed in a grey robe bound loosely at the waist by a heavy cord. By his appearance, he didn’t present an imposing figure. But as a druid he could control many things with just his mind. Many people had had to pay a heavy price because they had foolishly underestimated him.

          The war had been quite successful so far. Mestrathax stood on the hillside leaning on his staff of rowan wood. While he contemplated waking the tribal chief, his eyes quickly searched the countryside in the hope of seeing scouts returning with fresh intelligence. He studied the sky, looking for omens. The dark clouds and the flocks of circling birds looked ominous. Then a vision of flames appeared, engulfing all around him before quickly vanishing and leaving the air reeking with a dark, clinging feeling of impending danger.

          He immediately decided to awaken the Celtic tribal chief, Cestrathax. He was a tall, well-built man in his early fifties, with dark brown eyes, long brown hair and a large moustache. His body was covered in tattoos of fantastic beasts, though he normally wore blue and red check trousers with brown boots. He commanded well under stress.

          “Druid, what have you see in the omens?” roared Cestrathax. The tribal chief was already up and awake.

          “I believe some terrific defeat has befallen our forces. I’ll order my druids to scry out their fate. You should despatch a few long-range scouts and put your entire force on order to break camp, so we can travel before Belenus climbs above us.” 

          “We can’t do that,” replied Cestrathax. “We must stay here. This is our first rest for days, and many are badly injured and tired. We need to rest here for some time.”

          The druid looked directly at the chief and spoke in a compelling voice.

          “Regrettably, time is what we do not have. You’ll have to do as I ask or all of these people may perish.” He walked over to his aide, waking him from a deep sleep. “Shosterax, are you awake? Quickly, get dressed.”

          Bleary-eyed, Shosterax tried to concentrate on who was shaking him.

          “Oh, it’s you, Mestrathax. I’ve been dreaming all night that I was trying to wash blood off myself.”

          “We don’t have that luxury yet - you have a lot more work to do. Before you’ve eaten any food, you must scry out the people of this tribe who are fighting with Boudicca and find out what’s happened there. Then report to me immediately when you have some information. I’m going to tour the camp now, and I’ll return shortly.”

          As he walked off, a tall young woman silently stepped out of the shadows and discreetly followed him. She was dressed in green trousers and a loose leather jacket. There was a small shield slung across her back, she carried a short throwing spear and a sword was strapped at her waist. Her hair was jet black, her skin pale, her eyes sharp and dark like coals. This was Rianna, a spear maiden and an instructor in the arts of war. The order of priestesses at Avalon had sent her here with just one purpose, to become Mestrathax’s protector at the cost, if necessary, of her own life. Rianna would indeed go everywhere that the druid went. She was fully sworn to this sacred duty of protecting him.

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