Among the Audh
Chapter 1 of The Warrior's Inheritance
Zamiel tugged his heavy cloak round him so it kept out the east wind that howled like a wolf. The rock-strewn road was slippery with sleet and Zamiel felt every pebble, even through the thick leather of his boots.
As he walked Zamiel felt something warm and wet on his wrist. He looked down into the pale blue eyes of his loyal companion, Phelan the wolf dog. Phelan was licking Zamiel’s bare wrist with his long warm tongue. The road had been long and both man and beast were hungry and thirsty.
“We’ll soon be there, Phelan my friend. Another half league and we shall be at the cliffs. There stands the inn where the Audh are waiting to welcome us.”
Phelan wagged his heavy plumed tail and shook the sleet from his fur. Cocking his ears he looked to right and left, scanning the hillocks and plains for anything that could be of danger to his master, his nose raised for reading messages brought by the wind.
The darkening sky was filling with stars so that Zamiel and Phelan’s shadows lengthened in front of them. Dusk was short here on the Hibernian isles and the long star-studded nights were icy at this time of year.
Almost as soon as Zamiel saw the lights of the inn he heard the clink of tankards and the shrill laughter of the women and girls of the all female Audh clan. He quickened his step. Their leader, Sequana, had summoned him, an edict that no warrior would ignore.
Zamiel, Sequana let him know, was invited to father the child of one of the members of their clan, the one they had chosen. He would meet her this very night. After a meal and several measures of their own light beer, he and the chosen one would retire to the Audh’s Little Castle deep in the woods for fifteen risings of the moon, alone.
He had willingly agreed, although in only a month he must head across the great Hibernian Sea and travel on over the wide grassy lands of Albion. From there he would eventually traverse the Oceanus Germanicus to fight with Amalbert, the famed Teuton warrior. He would also be honoured to fight alongside the noble Celts, Emelric and his brother, Ansovald.
The Teutons had been moving south for many moons and were now preparing to oust the Romans from the lands around Noricum. The Roman legions were growing weak and had already withdrawn from several of the outer reaches of their vast Empire. Now the Teutons were summoning renowned warriors from over the seas to aid them in their final thrust.
Zamiel had never known the Roman soldier who was his father and who had died when he was a babe in arms. For Zamiel his father had given him his dark hair and eyes and nothing more. From the beginning, Zamiel’s loyalties were to Hibernia, his homeland, and to the Celts rather than to the Romans, who he saw as foreign usurpers. But he was proud that his prowess on the battlefield had brought him to the attention of men like Amalbert and Emelric.
The inn was full of women and girls, all eager to see the famous warrior who would father the new child. A warrior guaranteed a good physical inheritance, so said the soothsayers, and almost all the Audh women had been fathered by men of battle.
They craned their necks to get the best view of Zamiel as he entered, but when he came near they fell back to let him pass. Phelan, always at his heels, enjoyed the caresses he received from the young girls and the titbits of meat and poultry they offered him.
Sequana came through the throng of women to greet the visitor. She held out her arms, heavy with gold filigree bangles and bracelets glowing in the light from the rush candles ensconced on the walls. Her long russet braids, threaded with golden ribbon, hung down almost to her knees. Like all the Audh she was tall and her finely-boned face was on a level with Zamiel’s own.
“Welcome, my noble warrior, welcome!” Sequana turned and called out to a woman piling up wooden plates in the corner. “Maris, bring the repast fit for a king for our hero!”
Zamiel bowed his head in greeting. “Thank you for your welcoming words and for the honour of your hospitality, my lady Sequana. It has been a long journey for us, for myself and for Phelan my companion, so we are pleased now to be in your midst.”
“My noble warrior, you do us a great honour by coming here. We are all females but we enjoy the company of the males we choose to join us.” Sequana led her guest to a large wooden table and motioned towards two high carved chairs. “These are the seats we reserve for our noblest guests,” she said. “Whilst we bring you food and beer you shall get to know our clanswoman, the one we have chosen to be your companion for fifteen risings of the moon. You will eat and drink together before we lead you to our Little Castle.”
“I look forward to making your clanswoman’s acquaintance, my lady Sequana, and hope she in turn will find me a suitable companion for herself.”
Sequana smiled, her grey eyes twinkling. “Her consent has already been given, my dear warrior. She has heard many tales of you and your heroic acts across the seas that have quickened her interest.”
“Although she has never seen me, not once?”
“Once only, my lord. Do you not remember a cart passing you and your canine companion yesterday morning? The occupant of that cart, disguised as a simple serving woman, was Irira, the woman of the Audh who you are about to meet. Look, she is here behind you.”
Zamiel turned to see a tall young woman walking towards him. She came to stand in front of him and smiled shyly. “My lord Zamiel, I am Irira, your companion,” she said.
“I am no lord, mistress Irira, for I have no lands, but I accept the compliment, and I am happy that you will join me in this repast.”
Irira took one of the high-backed carved chairs and motioned Zamiel to sit in the other. She offered him a goblet, the same as the one she took up herself. “May our time together be fruitful,” she said, raising the goblet to her lips.
Zamiel and Irira drank together and behind them the inn, that had fallen silent since the visitor entered, again became alive with happy shouts and laughter.