If you’ve read book 3 in my Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles you’ll probably remember there’s a chapter or two which take place around a hill known as ‘The Dumpling’. That’s its modern name so, although dumplings weren’t called that in post-Roman Britain, I thought it a suitably rustic, evocative and downright suitable name, so I kept it like that in the novel. It’s official name is Duncryne Hill and it’s located in the small Scottish village of Gartocharn. I’d suggested to my family during the summer that we should visit it as the views are apparently fantastic for fairly little effort, it being a small hill. We never did get around to it in the summer but my wife said we should go just after Christmas, rather than us all lounging about the house. Of course, we knew it would be muddy at this time of year and, since it was a damp, drizzly day (as it usually is in Scotland!) the views would be poor. But we went anyway!
It’s only about a twenty minute walk from the road up to the summit and it was fairly easy going. The way back down proved a little harder, however, as my daughter almost fell right over in the mud, and then my wife really did go flying right onto her backside TWICE. Much to my daughter’s amusement…I did tell her not to wear a white jacket! Oddly enough, right then a carrion crow started to follow us, or so it seemed, cawing in laughter. I pointed it out, then a minute later its mate appeared and the two of them trailed us back down the hill, cawing the whole way. It was definitely the kind of thing I’d use in a book!
Anyway, here’s a few photos – apologies again for the poor views, but hopefully you get some idea of the location and perhaps what it would have been like for Bellicus, Duro, and Narina as they faced the coming battle with King Drest’s Picts. I’ve included an excerpt from the book below.
Extract from The Northern Throne, which you can buy at the links below, and don’t forget the newest book, The Bear of Britain, is just 99p on Kindle UK this January!
Bellicus stood in the tiny settlement of Duncryne, not far from the low hill known locally as the Dumpling, and took in the sight of the Pictish army on the road to the east. Once there had been a fort atop the Dumpling but, although it was long gone, the mound still afforded excellent views of the surrounding lands so it was here the druid had brought his army once their business with Cunedda and the Votadini was concluded at Medio Nemeton. They’d made it there before Drest’s Picts but the ambush Bellicus had hoped to lure the enemy into hadn’t worked out as well as he’d hoped.
The first, initial, charge down the hill by the Damnonii soldiers had taken out a few Picts and evened up the numbers of the two opposing forces somewhat, but after that both sides had formed into defensive lines across the road and been unwilling to commit to a full-blown assault on their opponents. There had been skirmishes over the past two days, but it seemed as if the standoff might last forever for the messengers Bellicus sent to Drest had been chased away by the Pict’s archers.
Even with the addition of the warband Cunedda had sent with Bellicus, the Pictish army was too big to meet head on without an unacceptable number of casualties and no guarantee of victory.
The druid frowned as he thought of the men Cunedda had loaned them. The king’s own youngest son, Ysfael, led the Votadini warband and he was an impressive enough man if rather arrogant. The warriors that came with him were quite formidable too, and they at least owned decent weapons and armour. The only problem Bellicus had with these new allies was one man: Eburus, the hot-headed champion who liked a drink too much and had a score to settle with the druid after their short but violent tussle.
To be fair to Eburus, he didn’t seem the vindictive sort, but his presence was already beginning to grate on the men around him and Bellicus wished Cunedda hadn’t insisted on sending the brash young man with them, even if he would be useful when the fighting resumed.
Beside him there was an excited exclamation and, train of thought broken, he glanced at Duro, who was staring up at the Dumpling. The druid watched in wonder and relief as he realised it was the Alt Clotan queen on top of the hill, and what that might mean.
“By Mithras, isn’t she magnificent?”
Duro spoke in low tones and Bellicus could only agree with his friend’s statement, although he didn’t reply out loud. There were enough—false—rumours going around regarding the druid and Narina as it was, without him adding to them by expressing open admiration for her. It was impossible to argue with the centurion though, for the queen held every warrior’s attention as she appeared on the summit of the Dumpling in her great war chariot.
Strictly speaking, Alastor and Helios were the first ones to come into view and, from this distance, framed in the sunlight as they were, they appeared every bit as impressive as the queen.
Alastor was a huge black stallion, with a coat so glossy it seemed to shimmer in the early afternoon sunshine, while Helios was a similarly sized grey whose lighter colour showed off the enormous, rippling muscles in his legs as the horses brought Narina into view. The stablemaster, Uven, had chosen the two beasts well, for they looked like something from legend as they slowly drew the chariot over the crest of the hill.
Narina was surely the centrepiece though. As the horses came to a halt on the summit the queen was momentarily caught by the sun behind her, and her brown hair appeared like a magnificent halo as she gazed out upon the men below.
Of course, the spell couldn’t last forever, but, as the Pictish army began to stir once more, ready to take up the fight again, a column of a dozen men led by her captain, Gavo, followed Narina over the hill to her left. And then another group followed to the right. And behind those, a line stretched out across the hill in single file, standing in silence, spears in hand, the sun casting long shadows before them that made them seem almost like giants.