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The Ghost Of A Warrior, short story Set in Ancient Britain
A Royal Empire - A Second Troy
Brutus of Troy was told by the goddess Diana;
"Brutus! There lies beyond the Gallic bounds
An island which the western sea surrounds,
To bar thy entrance, or obstruct thy reign.
To reach that happy shore thy sails employ
There fate decrees to raise a second Troy
And found an empire in thy royal line,
Which time shall ne'er destroy, nor bounds confine"
Ancient Stone Circle
Out for a walk amidst the rolling hills of Wiltshire, I came upon a stone circle. It was not as impressive as the famous Stonehenge, and the stones were badly weathered and a bit wonky, no longer upright as I imagine they once would have been.
It was a hot day in August and the air was filled with the sound of insects and the leaves of a solitary tree gently rustled. Inside the circle was an intriguing mound, not an impressive earthwork, in fact it was just a bump.
It almost seemed to invite me to take a seat. I sat a moment and then laid back to stare at the sky. My Labrador, who just goes along with anything that I’m doing, lay down too, his head on my thigh and within minutes he was snoring contentedly. I also drifted away, and felt to be melting into the earth.
I was in the stone circle, but it was a distant time, flares and blazing torches surrounded me. Through the gate formed by two huge stones, which pointed directly towards where the sun rose on the day of the winter solstice, entered a man. He was broad of shoulder, carrying a shield and sword; he wore a breastplate of burnished iron. I pondered this, I had expected bronze, but surely, this was the era of bronze.
A priest relieved him of his weapons and another carrying a sickle, also of iron, escorted the warrior walking closely behind him. These priests belonged to an ancient religion, one that made sense in the dark forests and sour water swamps of ancient Britain. The forests were dangerous places, not easy to travel through and a man needed the help and protection of forest Gods to get by.
The man was named Galt, the most highly respected warrior of the district. As he entered the circle he was on edge, his senses were warning him that not all was well, and yet there was no reason for it to be so. The people of the village stood silently watching him where as in the past they had cheered at his appearance.
He tried to clear his thoughts, rely on his instincts, to walk like the wolf, to react only when it was necessary. His mind wandered and he was reminded of just how long a walk this had been.
Ancient Boats Wait for the Tide
He had been forced from this village as a boy, sold into slavery because he was an orphan. He had been just eight years old, his new master, captain of a broad beamed coaster treated him cruelly. There were three men in the crew and all bullied and beat him, making him work as hard as, if not harder than the men did themselves. His only escape was to climb the shrouds and rigging of the ship’s single mast and sit with his legs locked around the woodwork for hours at a time.
He loved that place, he would lie back, and watch the sky, the sway of the ship was multiplied at the top of the mast. It certainly improved his sense of balance and he was quite at home swinging amongst the ship’s ropes.
The ship in good weather would sail south across the channel and follow the coast of Celtica, trading with the small communities along the way. Galt was often allowed ashore and he savoured the moments away from that crew. He had no money, but people were often kind to him, and would give him fruit or bread to eat.
After three years the captain came to him as they were about to leave one of the small fishing villages they had been trading with. “Get yer blanket and get ashore.”
Confused and a little afraid the boy did as he was ordered. A brute of man grabbed Galt by the hair and fastened a leather collar around his neck. He dragged him away like a dog, through the crowd of people that were gathered on the wharf. If Galt slowed his pace at all, then the man would tug sharply on the chain lead attached to the collar.
After a short walk, Galt was thrown into a low hut, which smelt worse than a midden. He lay in the dark for what seemed a lifetime, and then suddenly a door that he had been unaware of opened. He was dragged out and thrust into the middle of an auctioneer’s arena. Sullen faced men and women regarded him as if he was a stock animal.
An old man stood and shouted something to the auctioneer. There was some discussion before both parties seemed content. Other people threw in comments in a language Galt did not understand, but he knew what was happening to him, and for the second time in his short life, he was sold.
It was here that his luck seemed to take an about face. The old man led him home on the collar, but as soon as they were within an enclosed yard, he released him with a friendly smile. The man then comically rubbed his stomach and made feeding motions towards his mouth with his hand.
Galt shook his head positively, because he was so hungry that his stomach hurt. The old man crossed the yard and waved Galt to follow.
He settled in, life was better, but not easy. The new family he lived with were Smiths, and his new job was pumping the bellows that forced air into the forge fire. The days were long and hard, but the Smith’s wife fed him well. Galt had come to know her as Holly and she was helping him to speak their language.
The old man was not in fact the smith; it was his son Hals who was a true artist with his metal. Above all, he was the most famous and popular weapon maker anywhere in that country. As iron slowly replaced bronze, warriors everywhere were trying to get their hands on weapons made of the new metal.
Sometimes late into the night the hammer would still be ringing the heavy anvil. The bell like chimes echoed out into the dark, informing all, that a new sword was being born. Galt worked hard, he watched and learnt, fascinated by everything that happened at the forge.
Galt Comes of Age
Fierce looking warriors would appear from the forest and ask, not demand that Hals make them weapons. In the yard was a huge solid wooden pole and the warriors were allowed to attack it with iron weapons, which withstood the blows with ease. Hals would tell them to attack it with their bronze weapons, but they would often shatter as they hit the pole.
Galt practiced relentlessly
For years he had practiced with a sword that he had borrowed from his master. One day he was allowed to make his own blade. His master helped him, but most of the work, folding and beating, and forging strength into the metal he took pride in doing on his own.
When it was finished he practiced for hours with it, until he knew its strength and it was an extension of his arm.
Galt watched and saw how important the new metal would be for everyone, farmers as well as warriors would find a use for the forged and cast metal that they produced. Galt was fully-grown now and felt he was probably over twenty years old.
He approached his master and asked if he could return to his home in Albion. Hals replied that he would miss him, but it was time for him to find his own way in the world
- How I wrote my First Novel.
my experience of having a book published. It took nearly forty years to get it out of my head.
The smith made him a present of armour for his chest, a shield as big and round as a wagon wheel, with an iron hub and straps to fortify it. Galt had already made himself a sword and had practiced for the last two years against the post in the yard. The smith’s wife gave him flour and a separate bag with a live yeast culture that she told him to wear near his body to keep it warm and alive so that he could make bread.
Three other young warriors from the town asked to join him on his journey. Galt was glad of their company, as he had no clear plan in his mind. He wanted to get back to his home village, and although they had not treated him well, that was where he felt he belonged.
He had a score to settle on his way and he had no idea how to do it. His companions were lively and for the first time in his life, he had freedom and friendship. It was almost two days walk to get back to the port he had arrived at so many years ago. He knew the ship he was looking for and just hoped that it still had the same captain and crew so that he could revenge himself for all their cruelties during the time he was on the ship.
His friends were happy to go along with anything Galt suggested and regarded him as their leader on this adventure. They had to wait three days before the right ship appeared; Galt recognised it immediately. He was anxious to see its captain, he felt nervous, angry, and consumed by his lust for revenge. Waiting as patiently as he could, he watched the ship dock, and then made his way to it. Now, he caught sight of the captain, and despite the fact that the man was obviously much older, he recognised him immediately. Only one of the three crewmen had been on the ship when he was there.
He strode over to the ship, “I want passage to Albion,” he said without emotion.
“I will gladly take you, my handsome looking warrior, for a fee of course. Let me unload this cargo and we will be ready in three days.” The captain replied.
“Now, I want to go now.” Galt’s tone was hard and demanding.
The captain stuttered, obviously confused by the demand. “But I need to get things ashore, my living depends on it.”
“No,” Galt leaped onto the boat, “you are wrong,” he whipped a ten inch dirk from his belt grabbed the captain by the scruff of his neck and held it to the captain’s throat, “your living depends on getting us safely across the water, now.”
The air was as strained as a bow ready to fire, and the tension could almost be seen. Even Galt’s friends were taken aback; they had never expected this.
“Very well young sir,” he shouted orders to his crew over Galt’s shoulder.
Galt’s hand had been as steady as a rock, the captain knew that he made the right decision. Only when the ship was moving again and its huge square sail was fully unfurled and catching the breeze did Galt release his grip on the captain’s jacket.
The passage took almost three days Galt’s friends did not mention the incident as they sailed, but realised that their new leader had a hard edge to him and it was best not to cross him.
They reached the shore, Galt stood on the gunwales as his friends jumped ashore. The captain came for his fee as expected.
“Don’t forget my fee kind sir. You seem familiar good sir, have we met before?”
“Oh yes wretched captain, I was the lad you and your crew felt it amusing to beat and starve whilst you gorged yourselves.”
The captain’s face went as white as the cliffs behind him, he stepped back a pace.
“Be thankful you can sail away, because I have dreamt of this moment many times and you, you never sailed away.” Galt jumped to the shore. “Be gone before I open you up and expose your black heart, your stench sickens me.”
Without a second look Galt walked away; his friends made rude gestures to the captain and left happy that they had travelled free and that their decision to follow Galt was paying dividends.
They followed a wagon track, it was badly maintained and pitted, and during wet weather, it would have been almost impassable. Despite that, it was the only road inland from the small town by the sea where they had landed.
If you want to cross my bridge it will cost you!
Galt the Diplomat
After several hours walking, they came to a bridge, which was well constructed and wide enough for a horse drawn vehicle to cross. As they neared a huge character almost seven feet tall came and stood in the middle of the bridge. The top of his head was shaved bald, apart from a single plait that dangled down one side of his face, and a beard that had also been plaited in two lengths, which resembled tusks.
“If you want to cross my bridge it will cost you.” The giant shouted.
He drew a mighty sword from a scabbard on his back; the blade was almost three feet long. He held it across his body barring the way.
Galt bid his friends wait and he alone approached the man.
“Is this your Bridge?” Galt said calmly.
“It is, built with my own hands.” The man said proudly.
“It is a fine bridge,” Galt said. “It must have taken a great deal of work, especially with a bronze axe.”
The giant looked puzzled, “Yes it did take work, which is why you have to pay me to cross.”
“I am not just a warrior, I am a smith, and intend to set up a forge not far from here. Let us pass and I will make you an axe of iron.” He drew his own axe from beneath his cloak. “See this blade, it will not blunt like your bronze axe does, it will cut trees for you in half the time of your old axe.”
The big man studied a moment; he tugged on one of his tusks. “How do I know that I can trust you to keep your word?”
“If I don’t keep my word, what have you lost? We have crossed your bridge and done it no harm. When I keep my word you will have gained a valuable tool, how can you lose?”
The big man suddenly burst into laughter that sounded a little like a donkey braying, “by all the forest Gods, never have I heard such an argument. If you are as good an iron smith with your new metal as you are a word smith, the axe will be like no other.” The man sheathed his sword and offered Galt his hand.
Galt’s friends who could not hear what was being said were amazed to hear the laughter and once again surprised by their new leaders many abilities. They were even more surprised when Galt waved them forwards to cross the bridge.
That night they shot a deer and ate well. They left the skull in a tree to thank the forest for its generous bounty and to tell other hunters that there was deer in the area.
They set off again through the forest. It was not an easy path to follow, the dense trees made it very dark and huge roots had broken through the surface making it even more difficult to walk. They were quite sure that a pack of wolves had been tracking them for some time. They caught occasional glimpses of the animals that were just dark shadows amongst the undergrowth, but they were gone as quickly as they had appeared, probably following an easier target.
Lord of the Forest
Suddenly they were out of the forest and surrounded by cultivated fields. In the middle was a settlement on top of a steep banked hilltop. The settlement was protected by a wooden palisade and two deep trenches.
“At last somewhere we can get shelter and perhaps some food,” exclaimed one of Galt's men.
As they approached the gate up a steep track, it was closed against them. Three men appeared on the top of the wall with just their heads showing. “Be on your way, we don't need mercenaries around here.” One of the men shouted from the wall top.
“You may one day regret those words, we'll be back.” Galt said.
He was angry inside, but he managed to contain his emotions, his friends were surprised by his sullen silence. They crossed the fields back into the forest. One of Galt's friends came close beside him, "where are we going?" he asked.
"We're going back to my village, back to the people who sold me into slavery, back to the people who should have looked after me as a child and not bartered me as though I was an animal.”Galt said, he never broke his stride or looked at his friend.
It took a further four days before they came to another cultivated area; Galt knew that this was the place. He stopped to study a moment; once again, the village was on top of a large earthwork, fortified by several ditches and a wooden palisade.
They approached with caution, and as they neared the village gate, three priests approached them. The older of the three stared into Galt's eyes and said, "I thought that one day you would return."
Galt was amazed that the priest should remember him, "we have travelled far, and we are in need of food and shelter."
"You are welcome to stay here, you have developed into a strong, and I hope wise young man." The priest said.
"We had expected you" the elder priest said, "My brother Thrane saw your arrival in a dream. He said that you would bring something new, and that you would make the other settlements in the area bow down to us."
"Thrane has indeed dreamt correctly, or at least he is correct in that we bring something new for you."
Galt's friends rubbed their hands with glee at the thought of a warm fireside and a meal.
The settlement consisted of one large central house and a number of small roundhouses around it. The warriors were given their own roundhouse to sleep in, and were invited into the main house to eat. They sat at a table quite near where the priests were sat.
Galt explained, and told them of his time working for the smith. He told them about iron, how it could fell trees quicker, till the land faster, and how bronze weapons were no match for his iron weapons. He said that he intended to build a forge and that the people of this settlement would benefit from the products he made. In repayment, he expected them to dig the ore and provide the charcoal to be burnt in the forge.
There was great unrest amongst the villages; they came and complained bitterly to both Galt and the chief priest saying ‘who will look after the animals, who will work the fields, we cannot eat ore?’
Galt smiled and said, ‘you will.’
“We cannot possibly do both, you make us like slaves."
Galt did not answer this, he just nodded.
When at last, the forge was up and running and the first few axes had been produced, there were fewer complaints. They were able to clear great swathes of forest, that had previously seemed impenetrable. Galt worked with the village potter who made clay moulds for the molten metal to be poured into, and soon every man had his own axe of iron.
Galt made the journey back to the bridge and gave the giant his axe.
“I never doubted that you would not come back.” The giant said.
One morning the chief priest whose name was Mynydd Llew approached Galt, "On this morning, the first phase of the third moon, for several years now we have been forced to pay taxes to our neighbours, we get nothing for this except they leave us alone. They have a warrior who is mighty and has destroyed and killed all who have faced him. What should we do?"
Galt studied the priest’s face. He knew that this was a test; he also knew that he was being challenged.
"You should send word that this year there will be no taxes paid." Galt said.
"Their warrior will come, and he will be angry, what if he should destroy our village?"
"At least you will not sell any more children into slavery. Do not fear Mynydd Llew, no harm will come to the village, I promise you that."
The priest sent a messenger to the nearby settlement, informing them that they did not intend to send any taxes, or payment of any kind. It was against his better judgement to defy these neighbours who had for some time been gathering taxes, from a number of settlements, backed by their warrior. He gathered his brother priests to him and together they climbed the hill to their sacred stone circle, there they sacrificed a goat and prayed that they would not regret this action.
It was not long before they knew the outcome of the refusal of taxes. The warrior arrived with six other warriors, they came to the foot of the path leading to the village, the messenger had his hands tied behind his back. They made him kneel on the track, and despite the man's pleas, one of the warriors chopped off the man's head. His blood pumped for several minutes from the open cut, and his body twitched and jerked in a dance of death. There was now a pool of blood staining the track a dark crimson.
"Pay up, by all the gods I will separate all your heads from your miserable bodies."
The villagers were petrified many had climbed onto the stockade fence and seen the terrible act. Mothers held their children to their skirts and men looked for the priests and Galt to protect them. The priests arrived, and they two were fearful because they could not find Galt or his three companions anywhere.
They had burnished their swords, and breast plates as well as the iron straps that strengthened their round wooden shields, they looked a formidable force unlike anything seen before. They bravely came forward and stood within twenty paces of the enemy.
“Who dares to defy me?” The enemy warrior bellowed.
"I do," Galt said his voice steady and strong, "Be gone from here; we will seek recompense for the slaughter of this innocent man later."
Galt and his men advanced, but stopped when the enemy leader stepped forward on his own.
"You have defied me, I will slay you on your own first, so that your men can see how they also will die."
The warrior had advanced two paces his carp tongued sword in one hand and his double bladed axe in the other. Galt adjusted his shield on his left arm, his right-hand he held the sword that he had made for himself. They circled each other for a moment until the warrior made a slashing attack with his heavy axe. The blade crashed loudly against Galt's shield, but made no impression on the hardwood or on the iron straps.
Galt made no reply; he just lightly danced to the side paying hardly any attention to the attack. Again and again the warrior attacked, each time Galt parried the blows smiling and mocking the warrior. Suddenly he did react; as the axe blow landed, he lashed out with this sword shattering the wooden shaft. The axe head fell uselessly to the ground. Galt's men cheered and laughed, the mood amongst the villagers lightened and suddenly they felt they were safe and that there was hope.
Galt was not still now; he crashed his heavy shield into the warrior's shoulder knocking him sidewards. They both thrust with their swords which met with a high-pitched clang, but Galt was quicker than his opponent; he made a second thrust almost instantly, and the point of his blade sank deep into his opponents chest. The man for a moment looked confused and stared at the blade and the blood gushed from the wound, just for a moment he stared at Galt with disbelief.
The warrior's men looked confused, and uncertain, so that when Galt's men advanced, they turned and ran. A great cheer went up from the watching villagers; they could hardly believe their eyes, and sang praises to their new protector and saviour.
Galt had two more battles to fight, both enemies were dispatched with these. It meant that a number of local settlements now regarded Galt's settlement as being the dominant place. As months turned into years Galt, his warriors, and the people of his settlement, grew very rich. The iron tools that they made in the forge were much cheaper to produce than bronze tools and they could sell them at a much higher profit.
Even the priests grew in number from three to five and for a while, there was peace although it was strained at times.
Galt had promoted himself leader and sat at the head of the table in the community house. There was no one to challenge this move and none really cared as long as Galt stayed to protect them. For the first time for as long as any could remember, they felt safe.
The village paid its respects by presenting Galt with a superbly crafted bronze torc for him to wear around his neck, and matching wristbands decorated with a Wolf's head. He was delighted with the gift, and at last felt to belong; as he accepted the jewellery, he swore that he would protect the village for the rest of his life.
The Final Act
His three colleagues had all taken wives and were settled in their new home, but when Galt summoned them, they were there immediately beside him.
They would regularly patrol the area sometimes being away for days at a time, they would call on the settlements and make sure they knew that Galt was still in charge. A few challenges came forward, even some armed with Galt's iron swords, but none had the ferocity and determination in battle of Galt.
His popularity amongst the villagers meant that they now turned to him rather than the priest when they had difficulties or needed a dispute to be settled, something that was beginning to annoy the chief priest. He had argued with Galt several times and each time it became more aggressive and more difficult to find a solution.
Mynydd Llew held a meeting of his brother priests and it was decided that they could no longer tolerate Galt openly contradicting, and showing very little respect for them, so they contrived a plan of action that would rid them of Galt without the villagers turning on them. They let it be known that on the next full moon celebration and a sacrifice had to be made for their good fortune and the gods would be consulted as to how this should be done best.
On the eve of this celebration, Galt was surprised to find that he could not find his friends or their families, he was not too concerned, but he thought it rather strange. As he approached the stone circle torches brightly burnt around the stones, and there were bonfires within the circle. His senses began telling him something was wrong as he neared the stones, usually the crowd would be chatting, and there would be the sound of music, and of laughter. Not tonight; it was so quiet he could hear the flames of the torches being caught in the wind.
When the priests gathered together the villagers, before Galt arrived and they told them that the gods had demanded that Galt be returned to them so that they could use his strength and power for eternity. There were murmurings of disbelief, and of anger, the priest said it was none of their doing; they could only follow what the gods demanded. They asked if any among the crowd knew a way that they could change this, were any prepared to sacrifice themselves to appease the gods so that Galt could remain alive. Now the crowd was silent. Mynydd Llew, asked them again, knowing that all would shrink into the shadows.
The priests had already reduced the odds and the chance of anything going wrong by murdering Galt's friends and families. Now they waited for the final act in the charade that they were playing out.
As Galt entered the circle, there was a nervous tension that he could not help but notice, his suspicions were raised, but he could not put his finger on just what was wrong. One of the priests approached him and asked for is weapon, his shield, and his armour.
"What is going on priest? Why do you need to take my weapons?"
"Lord Galt, bravest warrior in the land, and most highly respected leader, it would not be suitable for you to approach the high altar bearing arms." He gave a reassuring smile and took the weapons.
Another priest came and stood behind Galt carrying an iron sickle, symbol of the fertility of the land. They walked towards the high altar where Mynydd Llew stood waiting for them. Ten paces from the altar Galt knew that it was a trap, but he never saw the sickle as it was brought down onto the back of his head punching a small square hole in the back of his skull. He turned hurting from the wound, confused, and mystified as to why he should be attacked in this manner. He did however see the next blow from the sickle hit him in the centre of his forehead.
He fell to the floor, there was a loud moan from the watching crowd, they were frightened, frightened because now they had no protector. Mynydd Llew raised his arms to silence them "Silence!" He shouted "it is the will of the gods, what else could we have done."
A deep grave had already been dug, and Galt's body was ceremoniously placed in it. His armour and his sword were placed by his side, three long spears were thrust into his chest right into his heart.
"We shall bury him here, with these three spears for all to see and touch to connect with this man when bravery is required."
The earth was filled in around the spears covering the body, when the soil completely filled the grave, the end of the shafts protruded by a foot. Coloured ribbons were attached and holy water was sprinkled on and around the grave.
Mynydd Llew once more held his hands aloft, "Galt has vanquished all our enemies, now he will reside with the gods to give them protection from their enemies. We had no more need of him; we rule and are supreme over all that we see."
For a number of years they were indeed rulers, but across the sea, curious eyes studied the distant white cliffs and shoreline. This island was allegedly guarded by giants and dragons, but the curious eyes knew that nothing could stand in the way of the legions of Rome.
I woke from my sleep
I woke from my sleep feeling hot and slightly nauseous and realised that I had been asleep for several hours under the hot midday sun, even my dog had had the sense to find shade under the tree. He wagged his tail, bounced over toward me glad to see that I was awake. I stood and studied the place where I had been laid; it was a small insignificant mound. I knelt down and pulled at the soil with my fingers trying to dig into it. I hoped that I would find the ends of those spear shafts, but at first, there seemed to be nothing other than the dirt, but there were small fragments of charcoal as though something had been burnt there at some time. It was a curious dream; it felt real, and it seemed as though I knew the characters as if I’d met them somewhere before.