Thirty years passed since Britannia voted to throw off the Roman yoke. Now, the old world crumbles. Pirates roam the seas, bandits threaten the highways, and barbarian refugees from the East arrive on Britannia’s shores, uninvited. The rich profit from the chaos, while the poor suffer. A new Dark Age is approaching – but all is not lost.
Ash is a Seaborn, a Saxon child found on the beach with nothing but a precious stone at his neck and a memory of a distant war from which his people have fled. Raised on the estate of a Briton nobleman, trained in warfare and ancient knowledge, he soon becomes embroiled in the machinations and intrigues at the court of Wortigern, the Dux of Londinium, a struggle that is about to determine the future of all Britannia.
A child of Saxon blood, an heir to Roman family, his is a destiny like no other: to join the two races and forge a new world from the ruins of the old.
Targeted Age Group:: 12+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When I lived in London, for a few years I lived in a place the Saxons called Wallington – "The Town of the Welsh" – next to a ruin of an ancient Roman villa.
The idea intrigued me. Here, fifteen hundred years ago, lived a pocket of Romanized Britons, surrounded by encroaching Saxons long enough for their memory to survive until today. What was it like? What were -they- like? What did they think about their old way of life crumbling about them? This was the starting point for the book – everything else came from there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Most of my characters are versions of characters taken from either historical sources, or myths and legends of ancient Britain. You can find their names in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, or Venerable Bede – even if they're only briefly mentioned.
With both hands, I grasp a thick stick and thrust it deep into the wet sand. Huffing and puffing, I run it in a straight line from the edge of the water to a pool I had dug previously out of the dry part of the beach. A roaring wave, taller than myself, crashes down before me; the bitter, straw-coloured foam laps at my feet and flows into and over the canal, destroying everything I’ve built. Undeterred, I start again.
Suddenly, I sense I’m being watched. The lone silhouette of a rider sits atop a ridge of dunes that shimmer in the sun to the east of our village. Even from this distance, I can tell he’s a stranger. Nobody in the village rides horses as tall as this one.
Though the rider is alone and far away, he’s enough to stir a panic. Hurrying feet stomp the drying nets, frightened voices cry out throughout the village; a mallet beats a sheet of brass in alarm. A man picks me up from the sand. I cry: my work is far from finished, and I don’t want to go back to the hot and stuffy hut while the rare summer sun is still high in the sky. But it’s not the hut that I’m taken to.
All the villagers have gathered on the gravel spit. A long, narrow boat, big enough to fit half of the village in its depths, slowly fills up with passengers. It has a single sail of red cloth, marked with a black horse’s head. I remember all the women of the village working on that sail. I remember them weaving the pattern adorning the red cloth: a face of an old, bearded, one-eyed man in a grey hooded cloak.
“Foh ina!” cries the man holding me as he hands me over to a fair-haired woman. She sits me down on a wooden bench. The wind blows from the land and fills out the sail. The ship grinds against the gravel as it slides into the sea.
The same narrow ship, heaving in a storm. Black, wrathful clouds in the sky, rain lashing at my face and hands, blinding, piercing. I open my mouth, but the roar of the wind silences my cries. A strong arm grasps at my blankets. The grip slips as the boat heaves and sways on the waves, then returns. The single mast shatters, a gust tears the red sail away into the darkness. The boat rolls to one side. The gripping hand slips one last time. Water, freezing cold and pitch black, covers my head. I gasp, choke, drown.
A face appears in the darkness, lit up from within: an old, bearded man, one eye missing, in a grey hooded cloak. He stares at me and then mouths some words, but I can’t hear him over the roar of the storm. He laughs and disappears. The strong hand returns and pulls me out of the darkness.
I reach out to hold on to something — anything; the butt of an oar strikes my arm, and I tumble to the bottom of the boat. The man before me struggles to hold the ship straight against the raging currents. I don’t see them, but I know there are thirty others like him on the boat, fifteen on each side. Though I understand that we’re in danger, I don’t yet understand how much. I don’t yet know that the kind of ship we’re on, called a ceol, is only good for sailing up rivers and along the muddy shores of our homeland, not for traversing the raging northern ocean. That without the mast and the sail, no matter how valiantly the oarsmen fight, we are as good as doomed in this hellish storm.
The strong hand picks me up again and sits me firmly on a wet plank. My shoulder hurts. Still crying, I turn to the sea. The downpour’s curtain splits open for a moment and I glimpse black shapes dancing on the billows, curved and sharp, like dried leaves. Two more ceols, thrown about by the same ravenous forces. A great swell separates us from them, and the ships disappear from sight.
I hear the woman to my left praying. In the memory, I can’t see her face through rain and tears. All I see is her hair, fair, flowing in twin braids, like streams of molten gold. She holds a small, screaming bundle in her arms. The man to my right doesn’t pray — he’s cursing the gods, and wrestling the oar as if he was taming a raging ox.
A lightning bolt tears the sky over our heads. The prow leaps upwards as our ship strikes a reef and, for a blink of an eye, we’re all hovering in the air. Then I hear a terrible noise, louder even than the thunder’s rolling roar: the hull planks tearing apart from the strain. As the boat falls down into the churning, roiling depths, so do I. The strong hand reaches after me, but this time it’s too late and the fingers grasp only at the water. The darkness engulfs me. With a panicked gulp, I swallow the ocean — and the ocean swallows me.
There are other memories, flashes, glimpses of another life erased from my mind by the passage of time.
A slave market in a small coastal town, my tiny baby frame squashed between the oiled thighs of two Germanic thralls. The smell of their sweat mixes with the odour of my fear. My legs hurt — the slave monger is forcing me to stand. I cry and pee myself. He slaps me. His hand is bigger than my head.
They give me my first name there. Among other nameless slaves I am known simply as the Seaborn — a call given to all the foundlings washed away on the rocky beaches of this inhospitable coast.
A swaying, stuffy darkness inside a four-wheeled wagon. The vehicle turns from a smooth, metalled road onto a dirt track, and the clattering and clanking of the rigid undercarriage wakes me up. The yellow dust gets everywhere. I cry again, and a woman tries to rock me back to sleep, but she’s too gentle — I’m used to rougher caresses — and I remain disconsolate. Her hair is not as bright as that of the woman on the boat. It’s mousey and thin, her eyes round and dark, set deep within a sad, fair face. She gives me my second name, in a language I don’t yet understand — she calls me Infantulus.
A flat, stone floor under my bare feet, surprisingly warm, radiating some inner heat. I’m in a vast, colonnaded hallway, presented to my new “family”: a couple of elderly house servants, ordered to take me into their cramped, dark, round-walled mud hut and raise me as their own. I sense their hostility. In years to come, they will call me by many names, none of them pleasant. I am an unwelcome disturbance in their already difficult life. I start to cry. I’m crying a lot in these memories.
But there is a snag. I can’t tell how many of these fragments are my real memories, and how much my mind had made up from what I was later told. I know now what a small-town slave market looks like, and what it’s like to be inside a four-wheeled wagon, ratcheting its way along a dirt track. And although the floor in my Master’s bath house is no longer heated, it does not take a great leap to imagine what warm paving stones must have felt like. No, I can’t be certain of the veracity of any of those memories.
Except that first one. It’s the only one I’m sure of, for one reason: I have never seen the open sea since that fateful, cruel storm which separated me from my people. And I could not make this image up from the references of my childhood. The only water I know is the Loudborne, a fast-babbling stream that runs south of the Master’s property fuelling the lumber and grain mills and the fish ponds dug into its banks. Strain as I might, I cannot make this clear current resemble in any way the dark, churning, demonic depths of the angry ocean. The vision must be true. And so I cling to it as if to a family heirloom — the only reminder of whatever life my real parents had imagined for me… Except, that is, for the rune stone hanging at my neck.
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