As you may know, the village I live in, Old Kilpatrick, was once part of the Antonine Wall – the very last fort on the western end in fact and, as such, an important site for the Romans. A distance stone was found here over three hundred years ago and, while that’s now safely in a museum, a replica has recently been placed beside the canal. It’s an impressive, and extremely interesting piece depicting the goddess Victory, and a boar which was the emblem of the 20th Legion who dedicated the original stone on which the reproduction is based. Carved by students Zenith Orr, Jamie McLaughlin, and Callum Grieve of City of Glasgow College, they did a fantastic job!
I mention Old Kilpatrick in my novel, The Druid, giving it the name which it might have been known by the Romans around two-thousand years ago, CREDIGONE.
Coroticus jerked his head at the druid and Bellicus, noting his king’s wordless command stood, drawing in a great lungful of air.
His voice seemed to fill the hall from end to end, reverberating from the rafters as if they were in one of the Christians’ stone churches with their clever acoustics. But this was merely a ramshackle old long hall, its wooden walls and rafters rotten and tired, and the druid’s voice, so incongruously and unnaturally loud, brought a stillness to the gathering that made Nectovelius’s face pale.
“Your lord would speak with you.”
Bellicus gestured with his left hand and Nectovelius peered up at him, wide-eyed and bemused, until at last the druid’s words penetrated his drink-addled brain and he pulled himself upright, forcing a smile back onto his bearded face as he addressed the now-silent gathering.
“My friends,” the lordling smiled, then looked down at the table, searching for his mead cup which he found and drained quickly, nervously, before continuing. “Tonight, we are honoured by the presence of our High King and his retinue.”
There were cheers at his proclamation – Coroticus was a popular king from a long line who had kept the marauding Saxons, Picts and Dalriadans mostly at bay since the Roman garrison that had been based in nearby Credigone departed sixty years ago.
“A royal visit is cause for much celebration,” Nectovelius continued when the babble of appreciation had died down. “So, eat and drink your fill, and enjoy the hospitality of my hall this night.”
Such an exhortation brought, predictably, more raucous cheers from the gathered villagers who were always pleased at the suggestion of a feast. It didn’t take a skilled orator to bring a crowd to heel, Bellicus mused. The promise of free meat and drink was ever enough to win the masses over.
And why not? The druid lifted his own cup which had just been refilled by a serving girl and drank deeply. It was a fine moonlit night, they were safe here in this poorly maintained yet comfortable enough hall, and – he glanced sideways at the figure between himself and King Coroticus – they were with good companions.
The queen must have felt the druid’s piercing gaze as she turned then to look directly at him, meeting his eyes, a small smile tugging at the edges of her mouth. He returned Narina’s stare but his attention was rudely drawn away as he heard Nectovelius continue his drunken address to the people of Dun Buic.
“…in their party is the renowned bard, Bellicus,” the lord was saying. His words didn’t draw cheers this time, only excited murmurs. People were wary of the giant who was known to be as much a warrior as he was a druid.
Bellicus never called himself a bard, however. He tossed a piece of fatty beef to the slavering dog beneath the table and waited, irritated, for the noble to continue.
“Perhaps you will sing for us this night?” Nectovelius said, looking blearily at the druid, a slack-jawed smile on his face. “A song of battle, and honour?”
“And love!” a female voice broke in from the crowd, bringing laughs.
“There’ll be plenty of time for that later,” a man leered and everyone raised their drinks aloft, cheering, men hungrily eyeing the women and girls serving the drinks.
Bellicus considered the request. The Romans had tried to obliterate the druids and their teachings but those in the north, far from Imperial rule, carried on their traditions. Specially chosen young men like Bellicus still learned the lore and skills of ages long past from their elders. So, of course he could carry a tune, but he didn’t particularly welcome the chance to do it this night.
For such a small place, Old Kilpatrick has some interesting history (being the possible birthplace of St Patrick, who also gets a little mention in my Warrior Druid of Britain novels…). Find out more, including a link to an altar to Jupiter found here, on the Wikipedia page. Feel free to edit it and add me as one of the notable people 😉
More distance stones are to be erected all the way along the Antonine Wall and I welcome this renewed interest in the area’s rich history, along with the playpark I mentioned in another post. Ideally, I’d love some lottery funding to be allocated for the building of something like a reproduction of one of the actual forts, perhaps at Castlehill. Maybe one day…