BRON Part I
Daughter of Prophecy
Life in the settlement has continued unchanged for centuries, in spite of the Roman occupation. But then, in AD 385, Bron is born.
This beautiful child is destined for psychopathic Nobilianus, heir to the High Priesthood, but he detests her. However, she becomes his father’s obsession. Soranus, her childhood friend, loves her and Pulcher, the dwarf, worships her, but as she grows towards womanhood, her temptation is the young Roman officer, Aurelius Catus.
As everyday life in the settlement is revealed, so are the dark secrets at the pagan Temple - love and lust, mystery and menace. Only Asher, the Christian pilgrim, speaks of another way of life.
But Umbella, the witch who lives in the wood, is all-seeing and pronounces her dreadful prophecy. Is it fulfilled? Read the books to find out!
AD 385 - An April Evening
Alone in the deep gloom of her woodland hut, Umbella took breath then tilted back her head and gulped down the contents of the glass phial.
She waited, licking the blue stain from her cracked lips.
As always, the evil-smelling liquid burnt fire into her tongue and toothless gums. Sitting hunched on the dirty mattress against the mud wall, she loosened the black woollen cloak that was wound round her scrawny old body and tattered clothing, disturbing the cockroaches, which scuttled off across the floor in all directions.
Then came sensuous pleasure as the liquid flowed down the back of her throat, as cold and slippery as silk. She hardly breathed, anticipating the familiar heaviness of limbs as she lay back on the mattress, one high note singing in her ears, her muscles gradually relaxing as she let her mind recede down the long, dark tunnel.
But tonight was different. Perhaps she had mixed too strong a concoction, perhaps drunk too much of it. Suddenly icy cold, she pulled the cloak round her again. Then she was sweating, the perspiration gathering in the wrinkles on her forehead or spilling over into her eyes. Her straggly, grey hair clung to her scalp and her bony hands began to rattle uncontrollably.
She dragged herself to her knees on the mattress, then to her feet on the beaten earth, and stood, her body bent and shaking.
"I'm not ready," she gasped, "not yet! I'm ill!"
But the spirit she had summoned was impatient, would not wait, and sent her crashing to the floor.
As she lay there, her ribs digging painfully into the earth, seeing nothing, she heard the familiar disembodied voice above her, but strident, raised in anger.
"I choose when you are ready, not you!"
She closed her eyes in submission.
"That's better." The voice was now as soft and silky as the liquid that had lubricated the back of her throat. "Listen, and listen well. I will show you what is, and what is to be."
Umbella listened long into the moonless night, appalled as she walked through the carnage wreaked in the Byden settlement, screaming in terror when engulfed in the flames. It took a full hour (or it might have been two or three) before she was able to speak again.
"Can one baby destroy a whole community?" she challenged.
"This baby can, by dredging up the evil in others."
"Will no one prevent it? What if I warned someone - High Priest, Vortin - anyone? They'll take notice of old Umbella. That whelp should not live!" There was no answer. "Then why show me these things?"
"We are in the realms of divining the future, you and I, not changing it. Is it not enough that those in fear pay more than you deserve for the fore sight I give you?"
Now it was Umbella's turn to remain silent as she pondered her hidden hoard of treasure. With such golden radiance glittering nightly beneath her torch's flame, what need had she of sunlight?
"Exactly." The spirit, as always, had read her thoughts.
"But I will not live to see the destruction?" she asked, relief evident in her voice.
"You will not live to see it."
"And the manner of my death? You hid that vision in mist."
She lay very still, waiting for the answer.
At last the spirit spoke again.
"It is better that you do not know how or when. I have spared you that."
Umbella felt a cold tide creeping up through her body from the floor. It was the damp night air, she convinced herself, and not her terror.
"Will I die alone?"
"Far from it."
"So there will be someone to tell others of my passing?"
"The birds shall bear news to the settlement. Now no more questions! I have shown you all there is. I am leaving and it is time for you to sleep."
Umbella was not surprised to find she was lying on her mattress again. Except for the busy cockroaches, the hut was empty and silent and she knew the spirit had left her.
She would sleep well now but determined to wake early, as curiosity would impel her to take the several hours' walk to Byden wood to confront the mother of this abhorrent baby.
Her dreams were invaded by flocks of starlings winging their way up through the canopy, through branches and leaves that kept the sunlight out of her clearing.
In reality, only a solitary black bat circled the roof of her hut.