What are Wood-Rotters?

They’re fungi that do exactly that. They rot the wood. And in rotting the wood, this class of fungi returns the dead or felled tree—trunk, branches, twigs, roots and all—to the soil. They thereby produce a nutrient-rich humus that’ll support neighbouring trees for centuries to come. Well done, chaps.

What, you thought it a class of fairies? Well, yes, they are that as well. Indeed, perhaps amongst the best known.


Such delicate, lace-trimmed helmets these troopers wear


But not all tree-rotters look like that. Here, three types try to obscure someone’s memorable graffiti


Get a look at those red nipples and stems! Flash, hey.


Though others prefer to kit out in gold and honey


And yet others like to make their mark by sitting on moss . . . here on a fallen willow


While these wood-rotters prefer loads of company. Like an entire army of rotters!


But not this one. Branching out on its own; gold, solitary, and proud!


Compared with the previous, these could be ‘ghost troopers’


Not all rotters are gregarious. Here, some pallid almost-aloners


Perhaps not as flash as those with red knobs. Yet with their glistening hats and their dark red stems, they’re obviously posing for a photo. So I obliged them


Could these rotters be widows, wearing grey veils?


Saving my favourite to last. A cleft-clustering troop with purple-knobbed helmets, all aglisten

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Fairy Led . . .

Their flowers all faded
Their berries, sweet, eaten
Yet out in the countryside
If you’re sharp-eyed
You might meet them and greet them:
The Fairies.


A typical trail of fairy-fungi. Follow these, you’ll certainly find yourself lost

When I was taking these photos my intention was to come home, delve into my Fungi Field Guide (not taken out with me, of course) and thus be able to label the specimens authoritatively. I then discovered this wasn’t so easy. What, I’d not taken spore-prints? Had I not cut the flesh? Checked to see whether the gills affix to the stem? Sniffed to discern how it smelled? No, none of these things. And so, rather than a mis-identification I merely present them—much as I saw them. Without labels!


These so remind me of pancakes. But who was the chef? And why serve them out here?


Ah, the gills! Or is it fairy-fancywork upon some golden chalice?


These might look the same as those ‘pancakes’ above but they’re not. See their shaggy rims? Like the fairies have sewn a fringe around them.


How many fairies might dance upon this? The hand shows its size.


But not all fungi are as easily spotted as these cakes and crepes.
The next section include several easily missed and, oops-a-daisy, stood upon.


Pale pink bonnets for the fairies’ bonny babies?


Pink bonnets for girls, blue caps for boys. Seems the fairies are behind the times! BTW, I think this may be a Pleated Inkcap


These are distinctive enough for me to hazard a name: they’re probably the Petticoat Fungus, members of the inkcap family, poisonous (and also hallucinogenic) Hmm, and now we see fairies!


In a recently cleared break, more thimble-caps. Note the red stems. Surely a clue to their identification


That one clearing was richly decked with a multitude of small caps. But are they all the same species, merely exhibiting different stages of growth and decay? But I can pick out at least four potentially different species


Two birds with one shot . . . I particularly liked those dark chocolate ones in the foreground. Could they be a mature form of the paler chappies?


Decidedly a different type of fungus here, not just a matter of size. And in the foreground an easily-missed blacked specimen, possibly yet another inkcap


Amongst the autumnal leaves this solitary cap is easily missed. Those fairies, always hiding them!


Back to those pancakes. Though these more resemble what I know as ‘Scotch Pancakes’. As to that coral-pink splodge, I think that’s the old form. Though it could be something entirely different.


And something ‘lighter’ to end on, to help clear the fairy dust from our eyes. These might be coloured kinda mushroomy-colour but I wouldn’t trust them any place near my gullet, not without first a look at their gills, a cut into their flesh, and not without a spore-print. Scalpel, paper, rubber gloves . . . anyone?

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This Hold, This Feast, This Heir

KW9 This Hold The FeastMistress Maia has no time for Queen Yoisea and her nonsense about Bregan being a Brictan, particularly since the King’s Truvidir doesn’t endorse it. But the old queen isn’t about to give up, yet . . . Read on

Queen Yoisea came by again the next day. She had waited, I swear to it, till she’d seen Bregan go off to the King’s granary. I’d sent her there to ensure all was as it should be before we started the brew.

Men of the Regiment guarded that place but with this Darkness, and people dying for lack of food, I was worried that thieves may have snuck in. Not that I’d have been overly concerned as long as they’d left me some. That grain had been taken from them, now there was need they ought have it back. But there wasn’t a king now to decree this, and, as Isbalen had said, Uissid Tizarn was ailing in this Darkness. So who else was there to order it? Truvidir Isbalen couldn’t do it for he no more was the King’s Truvidir. Had I been able, I’d have given it—willingly. Though naturally not all of it. I needed grain to make the bread, and bread to mash to make the brew. I needed other things, too.

I needed apples. But what tree bore fruit in this Darkness? And what else might I use in their stead? Bregan suggested honeyed fruits. Bless the child! I had laughed with relief, for I needed honey, too, for the brew. But where were the honeyed fruits kept? In the King’s Stores. Unable to enter there myself I had to ask Isbalen to get them for me. Spoiled pots would work the best—which was as well since, as he said, every pot was spoiled.

I cast a vexed look at Yoisea. “And what have you come to tell me today?”

“Not to give your craft to young Bregan,” she said in her wheedling voice.

Mistress Bregan,” I corrected her again, and would for as many times as it took for her to get it right.

“Not to give your craft to young Mistress Bregan. Though why she should be called ‘Mistress’ as if she’s the true heir to your craft I do not know.”

I turned on her. I could have savaged her, a hound tearing into a hare.

“I’m not trying to cause trouble,” she said as she backed away, looking old and frail and pitiful. “But she is a Brictan, and if your brother’s not a Brictan, and his wife is not a Brictan, then she must have been fathered by another. Her light is bright. Brighter than mine.”

Despite myself I had to ask, “What does that mean?”

She smiled: she now had my attention.

“It means the Brictan who begat her was closer to the Immortal source. He could have been one of the woodland daen. But what does it matter who begat her? Your brother did not, and thus she’s not the true heir to your craft.”

“I thank you for telling me,” I said.

And what was I supposed to do about that?

I asked Isbalen, though the truvidiren had nothing to do with my craft.

“Well does it matter?” he asked me. “Will Saram strike you dead?”

“More likely Sauën,” I said. “We are the ‘Seeds of Sauën’.”

“Like you are the King’s Wife? Maia, it’s just a name. It says nothing. It’s not like ‘truvidir’, is it? It’s not like ‘Reksan Albinnys Saramis’. It’s just a name.”

I didn’t know what to do. I neither knew whether to believe Queen Yoisea nor, if I did, what to do about what she had said.

“Talk to the girl,” Isbalen advised. “And now that’s sorted, I’ve come to take you to the King’s House.”

Why to there? Because—I didn’t need him to explain—with no Alsaldic King at present the King’s House was unused.

“Have you never once desired to be in the King’s bed?” he asked me.

I had once desired it, but I didn’t tell Isbalen that. I had had a such a longing for King Rufiäl when he was younger, no matter that we were both of the same clan. He had saved us from invasion, saved us from warriors intent on pillaging this land. To me he had seemed a hero—though all he had done was to command the Commander of the Regiment. It should have been Commander Horsemaster Nissien that I desired as our saviour, not King Rufiäl who’d merely said aye, to do it, to whatever the Commander’s planned strategy.

“What of Queen Yoisea?” I asked, reluctant to go to there with him. “She has a chamber at the back of it.”

“And she is old now and doesn’t hear so well, and has to sleep most of the day, and the night.”

But I’d rather Bregan walked in on us than to have Queen Yoisea find us there. She would tell everyone.

I talked to Bregan.

“Queen Yoisea tells me you’re a Brictan,” I said.

“Aye,” she answered me.

“Do you know what a Brictan is?”

“Aye,” she said.

“If you are a Brictan you cannot be my brother’s daughter. Do you understand this?”


“Do you know what that means?” I asked her, irritated by her simple answers even though I usually found her so charming.

“That I’m not a true heir. No more than a false king is one. You oughtn’t to give me your craft,” she said.

I sat back on my heels. She looked so solemn, not the usual cheery, bright young woman-child. I’d have preferred not to have this talk with her. It was upsetting for both of us. Upsetting for me because I needed an heir to train, to pass my craft to and . . . and I liked her. She was quick to learn and that was good for there was much to learn. Upsetting for her for she wanted to be the King’s Wife. It’s what she had wanted from the first day she’d been told of it. She had waited and waited to come here to me. But if she were a Brictan . . . ?

“Is my brother your father?” I asked her, wincing at how awkwardly that was said.

“He’s always been there,” she said.

“Are you a Brictan?” I now asked her directly.

“If I answer that ‘you don’t want me to say aye’, I’ll be displaying Brictish ways. And that won’t please you.”

It took me a few moments to work out what she meant.

“I don’t want your answer to please me if it’s not the truth,” I said.

“If I say ‘aye’ will you send me away?” she asked. “If you do you’ll be undoing what the Mothers want for me. They’re the ones who are weaving my life. Dare you gainsay them?”

“Queen Yoisea’s right, isn’t she? You are one of that breed. You’re not my brother’s child.”

“I don’t know who begot me,” she said. “I wasn’t yet born to know such a thing. I do know that your brother’s been my father since my birth. I don’t know what Queen Yoisea has said to you. I do know that I can do what she can do. Does that make me a Brictan too?”

What to do, what to do? With the New King’s First Feast within two triks how could I send her back to Palys? Abelea was too young for me to take in her place. Oaln had no daughters. I’d be without an heir for two more years. It wouldn’t have mattered had it not been for this feast. For the work it entailed I had my brew-women. They’d probably be far more help to me than the novice Bregan. But it was the feast, and the serving at that feast. I was too old to play that part now.

Anger suddenly replaced my weariness. Not anger at Bregan. She sat there looking glum, she didn’t want to be sent home. It was anger at Queen Yoisea. She was too old now to be the next king’s Queen, and she knew me to be too old to play the King’s Wife at this feast. It should be Bregan. But no, Yoisea would have me send Bregan away. And what would that mean? That I’d have to ask one of the other King’s Wives to serve the New King. And what would that mean? That whichever one I asked would then take over my position here at the King’s Hold on the Highlands of the Sun. It was this hold that was the King’s first hold. The first Alsaldic King had built it, and he had lived here with his wife who was his queen. Well, I wouldn’t have her do that to me.

“Bregan,” I said, “I don’t want to send you away. True heir or not, I want you here with me. I want you to serve the New King at the feast. It’s important to me that you do that. So if you say nothing to anyone about being a Brictan, I’ll say nothing as well. Do you understand?”

“You want me to lie?”

“The craft is for the King’s Wives,” I tried to explain my reasons; “it’s not for the queen. Since Queen Hegrea the two haven’t been the same. This craft is for us; not for the king, not for the queen, not for the law-men nor the truvidiren. I am first amongst the King’s Wives, resident at the king’s first hold. It’s for me to say who I’ll take to replace me. I can say that I don’t want a true heir, that the time has come to change that way. Look what’s happening with the king. No truvidir has found the True Heir. There’s to be a contest to find him; everything is changing. If I want you as my true heir, I shall have you. Do you understand?”

“You want me to lie,” she repeated.

“I’d like you to say nothing about things that should not be spoken of outside of my house,” I told her. “Now, do you understand?”

She smiled and suddenly the room was sun-filled though outside Sauën still couldn’t be seen. Is that what Yoisea had meant when she said of a Brictish light? Then I, too, must be of the Brictish breed for I could see it. And if this were so then could not my brother be her father after all?

She said, “Does that include not saying anything about Truvidir Isbalen coming here and filling your bed?”

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“Aunt Maia, I’m a Brictan.” And she smiled and she laughed, and I cried.

“I won’t say anything,” she said. “I’ll leave you two alone, if that’s what you want. Anyway, I don’t think it’s right that a King’s Wife should have no man in her bed. If it can’t be the king, then let it be the King’s Truvidir. I won’t tell Queen Yoisea, even though she does suspect it. But I should warn you. the old queen can get inside your head. But don’t fear; anger protects you. Anger and love.”

“Love?” I asked. “I don’t love him.”

“No,” she said. “I know that you don’t. But in the short time I’ve been here, I know that you love me. And that love stops all of Queen Yoisea’s probes.”

Now Mistress Maia has accepted the Brictish Bregan as her apprentice, if not her true heir, all ought to be well. No more tales for Queen Yoisea to tell. Not so. Next episode, 25th October

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The Bearer of Tales

KW8 The Bearer of TalesSince her brother first brought news of Bregan’s birth Mistress Maia has patiently waited, with some satisfaction, to receive her heir and apprentice into her keeping. And such convenient coincidence that young Bregan should be ready for training just as Maia has need of her for the New King’s Feast. But now Queen Yoisea comes bearing bad news . . . Read on

Queen Yoisea told stories; she said things no one else would dare say. She was an interfering old woman, and I’ll be glad when she finally dies. She claimed to have been queen to twenty Alsaldic Kings. It’s true she was queen to three of those kings: King Dathes, King Rufiäl and King Hudrys. But of the others? Huh.

When I first met her she was young and fair—beautiful, none would deny. How I envied her then, she the King’s Queen and I the King’s Wife. But I drew some comfort from the two things we shared: neither she nor I would ever sleep in a king’s bed—at least, not legally; and neither would we bear a king’s child. Indeed, we’d neither of us birth any children, not for any man.

Her years above me showed when first we met—she a young woman at her most desirable, me barely more than a child, shy that the Mother had prematurely touched me. But, oddly, as I grew to be a woman she remained as she’d been. I remember watching, and hoping, for some sign on her face of inevitable age. I’d have rejoiced at a graved line, at one—just one—wrinkle just beginning to appear. Anything to mar her perfection. But no, Queen Yoisea remained ever fair and ever plump while my freshness dried into the staleness of age. It wasn’t till the Darkness came that finally—finally!—she showed some sign of being as human as anyone else. And then it happened all at once. Within a decan of King Hudrys being killed, Queen Yoisea’s face was wrinkling like a dried-out plum. Her deliciously plump young body, of which she’d been so proud, now was thinning. It became gaunt, ghastly pale skin clinging to bones and hanging in folds and bags and . . . and all those wrinkles! Her hair, once so thick and shiny—like gold rippling down her back—became like discarded twine caught in a tree and blown in the wind. How that did please me. And there was I still young enough to attract the attention of a King’s Truvidir.

I suppose that was no great feat: the question of whether Truvidir Isbalen had offered a true heir in King Hudrys was implicit in the killing of that king. But that I was worth a second look while Yoisea was attractive only to the worms who waited to feast upon her, that was some consolation for having to see her almost everyday for all those years looking so impossibly young and beautiful.

She came to me bearing tales: this was her way.

“Young Bregan,” she said, letting me know who it was she was telling on.

Mistress Bregan,” I corrected her.

“Young Mistress Bregan,” she said. “Have you noticed the light about her?”

I looked at the aging crone none too kindly. “What light?” But I’d known what she meant. It seemed as if the Darkness lifted whenever Bregan was near. It was her cheeriness. It was that she was young. It was that she was happy.

And she was happy: happy to be here, to be my apprentice. Fourteen years she had waited to learn the craft from me, to be the King’s Wife in my stead. It was the only thing she ever had wanted, she said. I told her, that was as well since she’d no choice in it. I had chosen her and she had come. I told her to think on that, that one day she must look to her brothers’ daughters for one to replace her.

“I’m telling you,” Queen Yoisea persisted, “she has the light. I’m Brictish, and I can see it, even if you can’t.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about. What was this thing of being Brictish?

“You have to be a Brictan to see other Brictans,” she told me.

But what were Brictans?

“She must have had it off her mother,” Yoisea said.

I didn’t understand.

“Is her mother a Brictan?” Yoisea asked. “How long has she lived?”

As far I knew Kastea was of an age with me. I told Yoisea so.

“Is she young and beautiful?” the old woman asked.

“She’s of an age with me,” I repeated. But aye, in her day Kastea had been most beautiful. That’s why my brother had wanted her so much. He had plied her family with gifts. Our father Ivenys had laughed at him for it. Our mother Poalha had been annoyed about it. She’d said he was after something beyond him. Not only was Kastea beautiful, she was also the granddaughter of a king, if only a king of Bayland. But a king’s granddaughter wasn’t beyond the hopes of any of our men, our family being of Clan Krisvin.

“You’re not a Brictan.” The way Yoisea said it, I thought it an insult and began to bristle. “Were you and your brother begotten by the same father on the same mother?”

I didn’t want to listen further to her. There were chores to do. And I certainly didn’t want to answer her prying questions. Whatever her direction, I didn’t want to be led.

“Well?” She would not relent.

I sighed. “Not that it’s any concern of yours, but my brother’s mother and father are the same as mine.”

“So it comes from Kastea.”

“If you say so.” I’d say anything now to be rid of her.

That night when Isbalen called on me I asked him about Brictans. He’s a truvidir: they know such things.

“That’s an old word,” he said. “Where did you hear that?”

“Queen Yoisea.”

“It would be her,” he tutted.

“Well?” I asked.

“Brictans: they’re the children of Immortals.”

“Begotten by the daen?” I asked.

“You listen to too many stories,” he said. “You’ve heard that from a Baylander. They claim the wildwoods are full of daen, and that if a young woman walks there on her own, one of these daen will entice her into his lair and get a child upon her. Stories,” he said. “You’re a woman, you understand why such tales.”

“So Brictans aren’t the children of the daen?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Maybe some are. But daen aren’t the only Immortals.”

“Yoisea says that she’s a Brictan,” I said.

“So I’ve heard.” He laughed as if at the very idea of it.

“How do you know if someone’s a Brictan?”

“You have to be Brictan too, else you’d never know,” he said. “They have a light about them. I can’t see it but many can. For those who are of the Brictish breed Uissid Tizarn seems to be the equal of Sauën.”

“Sssh!” To say such a thing! What if Sauën should hear?

“Aye well,” Isbalen said, “Uissid Tizarn is ailing in this Darkness. His light is fading—so I’m told.”

“Has anyone said anything about my niece?” I asked him.

“That she’s a Brictan? No. Is she?”

“Queen Yoisea says she is.”

“Are you? No, of course you’re not. If you were, you wouldn’t be asking these questions. And distracting me with talk of Brictans when I came here with other things in mind.”

“There’s Bregan now,” I told him. We couldn’t be as we had before she came. We had to be more careful now. Not that we were doing anything forbidden us, but she was a young woman—close to—and there was no place in my house for her and us. We’d have to go elsewhere now that she was here.

“Where is she?” he asked. “I don’t see her.”

“But she could return at any time,” I said. “She’s gone to fetch water.” She’d been gone a long time, I expected her back any moment. Though I feared she might have met with Queen Yoisea. I feared what that old woman might have said to her.

As with the bearer of any tale, Queen Yoisea’s news has not been well received. Now brushed aside by the former King’s Truvidir as so much nonsense, Mistress Maia is disinclined to believe it. But Queen Yoisea isn’t one to keep quiet. No doubt she’ll try again, perhaps next time peppering her words with some other spice . . . Next episode: This Hold, This Feast, This Heir.

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The Iceni: Queen Boudica’s People

The most iconic image of Boudica (by Victorian artist and engineer Thomas Thornycroft) stands on the Embankment near Westminster Bridge, London. Here Boudica is portrayed with her two adolescent daughters—after they’d been raped by Roman soldiers—battle-enraged, and driving a scythe-wheeled chariot. The epitome of the defending mother, she captured the Victorian Brits, heart and head and has remained close to the British soul ever since.


Photo: Mail On-line

But for those who don’t know her, in CE 60 Boudica (whose Celtic name translates as ‘victory’) led a combined Iceni-Trinovante force, and unnamed others, in a bloodthirsty rampage that killed in total over 70,000 people, Romans and Britons, and destroyed the Roman settlements of Camulodunum (today’s Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans) in the eastern province of Britain. Were it not for her eventual defeat by the Roman war-machine under governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus the Roman occupation would have failed; they would have withdrawn.

But this post isn’t about Queen Boudica. It’s about her people, the Iceni, and the riches they have bequeathed to the county of Norfolk.

The Iceni

So let’s get the pronunciation right from the start. It is not I-SeeNee, but E-KeeNee—witness their own minted coins with initial ‘E’, not ‘I’, and the Celtic ‘C’ always was hard.

The Iceni first appear in the form of the Cenimagni in Caesar’s account of his invasions of Britain (55 & 54 BCE), though it’s believed the name applies to a confederation of tribes headed by the Iceni. Caesar places them north of the river Thames. Later, as already said, they advertise themselves by minting coins bearing their name. But let’s go back some, to what is generally referred to as Iron Age Norfolk.

Today’s press—had they then been around—might have dubbed the Iceni, ‘People of the Horse’, for in Iron Age Norfolk horse-trappings and chariot accoutrements form the bulk of the archaeological finds, these dating from BCE 200-300, and even as early as BCE 400, long before the Roman invasion and Boudica’s rise (and fall). But as if to reinforce the ‘People of the Horse’ title, when the Iceni-minted coins begin to appear (from BCE 10 onwards) they mostly bear the image of a horse—though some few carry the wolf.

Iceni Coins

A Horse and a Head: Images most commonly seen on the Iceni coins

Yet it’s for their golden torcs that the Iceni are most famous, in particular the Snettisham hoard.


Snettisham Hoard as displayed at the British Museum

These highly ornate, some extremely heavy, items of Celtic neck-wear were deposited in their gods’ safety deposit box, i.e. the ground, to form an offering to an unidentified deity. Perhaps to Epona, the Celtic Horse Goddess?

Less well-known are the Iceni hill-forts.

What’s that, Norfolk has no hills?

While that’s true, there are none like those found in, say, Wales or Wiltshire, yet Norfolk does have some ‘bumps’, and Norfolk does have some exceedingly similar constructs: i.e. ramparted forts—just not sited high upon those ‘bumps’. In fact, in Norfolk the forts are found squatting beside rivers. Just look at the map.

Iron Age Norfolk

You might note, also, that the forts congregate to the west of the county. So, too, the finds of gold torcs. So, too, the ancient track-ways. So, too, the Iceni?

This has been suggested: that the rebellious Iceni hailed mostly from West Norfolk and thus, to offer a visible slap to their defeated faces, the Romans sited the civitas-town of Venta Icenorum to the east. Alternatively (my own opinion), the Romans having annihilated the defeated Iceni (which the Roman sources certainly do report) there then were none left in the west and thus, the civitas-town of Venta Icenorum must, perforce, be sited eastward. In the east, sited beside the River Tas (then much wider and deeper than it is today—see photo below taken a tad upstream from Venta Icenorum) it was easily accessible via the ‘Great Estuary’, later to be protected by forts to north and south of the estuary (at Caister-on-Sea and Burgh Castle). But it must be said, Venta Icenorum never really took off as a Roman-style town. Norfolk, you see; we do things different.

River Tas at Smockmill Common, Saxlingham

River Tas at Smockmill Common, Saxlingham

But back to the Iron Age forts. Since I was recently hiking the North Norfolk coast and places inland, I couldn’t not go visit the most accessible fort. Warham, 3 miles south of Wells-on-Sea.

Warham Camp

Though at the end of the North Norfolk Ridge, the terrain was still ‘hilly’ (Norfolk-style hilly). Roads fell away into valleys—well, the road we were walking fell into the Stiffkey’s valley. Though it’s now a stream the Stiffkey once was a navigable river.

Road to Warham Canp

Help! Where’s the road gone? Oh, into a valley.

The village of Warham All Saints presents the norm in vernacular architecture for this stretch of coast. Extremely hardwearing.

Warham All Saints

Typical flint-and-brick buildings at Warham All Saints

The church, intriguingly quaint on the outside, on entry revealed itself to have been, in its heyday, a wool church: i.e. a church fancified and enlarged on the profits of the wool trade (fleece and/or cloth). Alas, times change and later parishioners requested warmth with their worship and so the superfluous parts of the church had to be reduced. An aisle was removed, leaving only the pillars and arch-outlines to echo the region’s former wealth.

Warham All Saints church

Evidence of a former aisle at Warham All Saints church

A track leads from the narrow switch-back of a road to what the University of East Anglia has described as ‘the best-preserved hill fort in Norfolk’. But without the way-sign track and fort would have been totally missable. I took photos.

Warham Fort

On approaching Warham Fort

I knew from previous experience at Maiden Castle in Dorset (a magnificent multi-ramparted fort) that chances were these wouldn’t do justice. Yet there was a difference between then (Dorset) and now (Norfolk). I no longer have to rely upon the weather god to provide perfect lighting. I have a programme does it for me.

Warham Camp Ramparts

The ramparts at Warham Camp

But it still isn’t easy to show the restrained grandeur of the place (okay, so it measures a mere 230 yards diameter within its 10 foot high double bank & ditch yet that’s large enough for 2 or 3 round houses).

Warham Fort Interior

Inside Warham Fort. The sheep like it (yes, those barely visible grayish blobs). Internally more spacious than expected.

And so I have supplemented my efforts with an aerial photo snaffled off the Web.

Warham Camp Aerial View

Aerial view of Warham Camp, from Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Services

But, though we might play with the notion, it’s highly unlikely that Queen Boudica ever set foot in this fort. Its active life predates the lady by several centuries. Still, I am a writer, it’s my prerogative to imagine.


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A Matter of Source

KW7 A Matter of SourceAll Brictans exude some measure of light. The closer to their Immortal source, the stronger and brighter the light. So when Bregan arrives at the King’s Hold to train as the next King’s Wife Queen Yoisea notes an irregularity here . . . one she’s not inclined to let lie . . . Read on

I soon noticed how Bregan went to the spring to fetch sweet water, although Mistress Maia had always said that the water in that little stream of hers was as sweet as any spring. So why did Bregan go up to the spring when there wasn’t a need? I suppose because she didn’t trust to her aunt’s saying: no river water was fit to drink during the Darkness. Anyway, I hauled myself up to that spring, and sat myself down beside it. I had to sit, the walk had exhausted me. And there I sat, like a beacon in the darkness for any Brictan who cared to see me. Yet even then I had to call her.

She could have ignored me, closer in glunan to her Immortal progenitor. But, no, out she came from Mistress Maia’s house, two water-flasks in her pretty young hands—and no sooner had she left than I saw Truvidir Isbalen crossing the Hold to visit the same.

Did the fool really believe that no one noticed him in his many visits to Mistress Maia? But then, what Alsaldic Law is there to forbid it. No, rightly or wrongly—and I say wrongly—the King’s Wives have never been subject to Alsaldic Law. But even so . . .

But then, of course, there’s also the question of why Truvidir Isbalen still resided at the King’s Hold. He was no longer the King’s Truvidir. The king he’d promoted—himself along with him—had been declared a failure, and killed. Now, at the very same time that Truvidir Isbalen was playing up to Mistress Maia, the law-men were taking the Old King’s body to every family-holding in West Alsime Land. They did that when a king had to be killed; done to allow his disappointed subjects to hurl stones and abuse at him. So now Truvidir Isbalen ought to be gone, too. Yet here he was, still at the King’s Hold. As I could see, he’d no need to be here—he had no right. And if I’d been him I’d have gone far away—far, far, far away from the Alsaldic Lands. Consider it: the shame of being he who had offered up that failure of a king! I’d even wondered if it was by King Hudrys’s doing that I now was so rapidly aging—I’d been young and beautiful right up till the coming of the dragon Draksen.

But be all that as it may, I called Bregan to me, and Bregan came.

It didn’t take her half as long as it had taken me to reach the spring. She came to me with smiles. She’d seen my light. I mistakenly thought by her seeing my light that she must already know about we Brictans. Apparently not. Indeed, she knew nothing. I had to instruct her, to tell her the things my father had told me. She laughed—several times: “Aye: I can do that.” “Can I only do that because I’m a Brictan?” “Are others not like us?” Then together we asked about her Brictish progenitor. She was certain it wasn’t her mother since her mother had no light. Yet even her father had only a faint glimmering—alike to his sister, Mistress Maia.

“Probably a woodland daen,” I told her.

She’d heard of them, of course she had, her mother was a Baylander. It’s only amongst the Baylanders and other East Alsimuk that the daen are mentioned—those and the people of East Isle. But, then, they too were East Alsimuk, once upon a time.

She asked me if I’d been begotten by a woodland daen as well. I told her no. That’s when I told her of the Immortals and the glunan and being closer or farther from the source.

“I’ve lived seven hundred years and soon now must die. But you,” I said, “you will live at least twice as long as me. Maybe longer.”

“A thousand years? More?” she asked. How easily excited.

“Maybe bigger numbers than I know,” I said. “My father has already lived for as long as that and still shows no sign of aging.” Not that I see him often. Sometimes he comes to West Alsime Land to trade. But he says so much has changed since he first set foot in this land that it upsets him too much to come here.

Bregan stayed away from me after that, though only for a few days. When I saw her again I asked her why she’d stayed away. She said she’d had things to think of. She was worried, she said. She couldn’t decide whether to tell Mistress Maia of her being a Brictan. It troubled her. Maia had chosen her as her true heir because she was supposed to be Maia’s brother’s daughter. And now she knew she was not.

“What do you expect will happen if you tell her?” I asked.

She shrugged. She didn’t know enough of being a King’s Wife, nor enough of Mistress Maia to answer that.

“And what if you don’t tell her?” I asked.

Again she shrugged. “I guess someone else will.”

“You think then that there will be trouble for you?”

There came a third shrug. And a nod.

She said, “I don’t want to be sent back to my family. I’ve known ever since my father—my father Palys—told me I was to come here to be the King’s Wife that this is what the Mothers want for me. It wouldn’t do to be sent home again.” Then suddenly she jumped up in great alarm. “They’d have to find a husband for me. That wouldn’t do!”

I laughed at her. “|But why ever not?”

“My father Palys has always said ‘at least we don’t have to find her a husband’. He wouldn’t be pleased if I returned.”

“But you’re not your aunt’s true heir,” I reminded her.

She pulled a face.

“Difficult, isn’t it,” I said.

There followed some moments of quiet while she was thinking, and screening her thoughts from me—she’d learned that quick enough. Then she looked up, even more alarmed. “Will they do to me what they do to a king when he’s not the true heir?”

“I’ve never known it to happen,” I said. But then I had to tell her, “I’ve never known a King’s Wife who isn’t a true heir.”

“I have to tell Aunt Maia the truth,” she said. But I could see how reluctant she was.

“Would you prefer that I tell her?” I asked.

“Would you?”

“She’ll call me an interfering old woman,” I said, at which Bregan laughed.

“It has to be sorted,” she said with resolve.

“Mmm,” I said. On that I agreed. And wouldn’t that upset Mistress Maia!

The resolve has been set: Mistress Maia must be told the truth of young Bregan. But what of Mistress Maia’s plans? She has the beer to brew for the New King’s Feast; she needs her apprentice. Next episode, The Bearer of Tales

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The Old Queen

kw6 The Old QueenBregan has been named as the true heir to her aunt, Mistress Maia, the present King’s Wife, which requires her to travel to the King’s Hold on the Highlands of the Sun, despite the blackness spread by the foul wings of Draksen. And when, at the King’s Hold, she meets the old queen . . . Read on

They don’t believe me, they don’t, when I say I’ve been the Alsaldic Queen to twenty kings. But I have, I speak true. Uissid Tizarn knows, but then Uissid Tizarn prefers I keep quiet about it. He knows it’s true because he was there when I was chosen to be Alsaldic Queen to King Paolyn, the tenth Alsaldic King. As with all Alsaldic Queens I was chosen for my beauty. Chosen, and given to the king. That’s how they say it, the truvidiren: to be given to the king.

But while before me a new queen must be chosen every fourth year at the Feast of Trees—so fast did their beauty fade—I have remained.

I chuckle—not maliciously, never maliciously, not me—at how many of those beautiful young things before me believed they were to bed with the king. But, ha, no. No, never, never, never. The king has a wife for that (but not the King’s Wife). No, as the King’s Wife is there solely for the brewing, so the Alsaldic Queen is there solely for the showing. Why else must she be so beautiful.

She has to have wheaten, golden or copper hair. No truvidiren would consider a young woman with hair of earthy-browns or raven-black That speaks too loudly of the Krediche and the Eskin, and they never could sit beside our king—not even if the king were previously a Provincial Lord. Some bemoan that ruling saying, then, that never can an Alsimuk woman sit beside him either, especially not one from the White Lands or the Broken Hand. But I say that’s not so, for these days copper and golden hair is often seen in those lands—though while I held my beauty no new Queen would ever be chosen.

She is to have green eyes—by preference. How many green-eyed women are seen? It is rare, and yet I have them. But the truvidiren will allow blue eyes too. Any light colour, but never brown.

She needs be both small and plump. The king doesn’t want a queen whose head tops his when walking and sitting. No—no, no, no, that wouldn’t do, particularly since kings from the Provinces can be . . . shall we say, somewhat short. And so the Alsaldic Queen needs be even shorter, thus ensuring she’ll always be shorter than him. And plump. But does that need saying? If her bones protrude then she’s drawn and scrawny and never a beauty.

I was everything the truvidiren required of an Alsaldic Queen. Moreover, I was born to one of the very, very, very best Alsaldic families—our ancestral glunan reached through to King Meksuin of the Three Holds.

The truvidiren of Meksuin’s Land had already chosen me at the Feast of Grounding. But that’s only the first choosing; it didn’t follow that I’d be Queen. I had first to travel the very long way to West Alsime Land, there to be chosen again, now at the Feast of Trees. That’s when Uissid Tizarn first saw me. Of course, he knew at once what I was though he didn’t know who.

Uissid Tizarn is one of our breed, though I ought to say was one of our breed, for alas for him, he is no more. In all those years I knew him, never did he admit to me that he was an Immortal, a begetter of our Brictish breed. Moreover, never did my father mention him when he talked of the Tuädik Uissids. And who was my father? My father was no woodland daen. No—no, no, no, he never was that. Neither was he an Immortal—for had he been that, then I would have been even more beautiful, and wouldn’t now be in this rapid deterioration.

It was my father told me of we Brictans—indeed, who else could tell me. He told me of the races: Flame (which is Uissid Tizarn), Gold and Crystal, and Silver (which is me, my father and his Immortal source—proof that these remain constant through the glunan, except when they cross-breed). He told me that while Immortals live forever in this world (though they can be killed yet they don’t stay dead) we Brictans—children of the Immortals down to their seventh glunan—are by nature part-mortal. And it’s that mortal part that eventually causes our death. Otherwise, like our immortal progenitors, we’d live for ever. He told me of how with each glunan our powers are halved. My father was of the fourth glunan from our immortal progenitor (Amblushe by name); I am of Amblushe’s fifth glunan.

It’s no lie when I say I have sat as the Alsaldic Queen to twenty Alsaldic Kings. And in my days I’ve seen many a thing.

I have seen—how many? But I do not know, I’ve never counted them—counting is for others, not for me. But I’ve seen a good number of King’s Wives, as the women who brew the King’s Beer are known. I’ve watched as each brew-wife ages, knowing her days soon will be over. I’ve watched as they’ve turned to their brothers—occasionally, through want, to their sisters—to take from him a daughter, a niece to train up to their craft and be the new King’s Wife.

All have been of our Brictish breed. Though until Mistress Bregan all have been so far from their source as to have barely a glow about them. Oh, but when I saw Bregan . . . I watched her walk across the King’s Hold and I knew at once. Here was one closer to her Immortal source than my paltry five glunan. Even in the Darkness of Draksen her light shone forth. She was almost the equal of Sauën.

But why could I, alone, see this? I knew if Uissid Tizarn were to see her then he’d know her at once. But Uissid Tizarn was ailing—had been ailing since Draksen’s Darkness. He kept himself from us. The gossips said he slept in the King’s Granary which I thought unlikely. A granary is no place to sleep. But I don’t know where he kept himself hidden, only that he wasn’t again seen till the dragon, defeated by our new king, departed.

I should have known before ever she arrived that young Bregan was different, for Truvidir Isbalen had gone to fetch her—and I’ve never known that to happen. When I asked Mistress Maia of it she said it was because of Draksen. I asked her why Goenys hadn’t gone instead. She used Goenys for all her other errands, why not to fetch this, her niece? Was Goenys not to be trusted with young Bregan? Rather I’d say it was Truvidir Isbalen who wasn’t to be trusted with such a pretty young thing. I told Mistress Maia this; she didn’t like it. Yet I spoke it only as I saw it.

Young Bregan soon found me—I made sure of that.

By then I was beginning to age and to weaken. That didn’t please me. Had my father not told me I might have thought it Draksen’s doing. But no, I’d always known it would come. Same as I’d always known—because my father had told me—that once the aging started it wouldn’t be long before Old Mother Death twitched her finger at me. Well, she hasn’t yet called me though she has laid her hands on me and slowed me some.

So, once Truvidir Isbalen had fetched young Bregan here, and I had seen her walking about the King’s Hold—seen her light, how bright—then I grabbed my staff to help me walk and out I went. I intended a good long talk with her. I had a query regarding her glunan.

Despite the Darkness, Bregan has arrived at the King’s Hold ready to gain her inheritance: to train to be the next King’s Wife. But there’s something niggling the old queen; it seems Yoisea isn’t inclined to let the matter of Bregan’s Brictish light lie. Next episode, A Matter Of Source.

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