Publication Date: December 11, 2019
Paperback & eBook; 481 Pages
Series: The Song of Ash, Book 1
Genre: Historical Fiction
The old world is burning down
A hero will rise from its ASH.
Thirty years have 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 land at 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.
I hear it first, before I see it: the shaft flutters through the air and the blade hacks unfailingly into the target with a satisfying crunch.
Half a dozen cabbage heads rest on top of an old crumbling wall, marking what must have once been the eastern border of the villa. Stuck in one of the cabbages, splitting it almost in two, is a weapon I haven’t seen before: a small, slender iron axe set on a slightly curved oaken shaft. Fulco waits for me to bring the weapon to him. It’s heavier than I expected, well weighted towards the blade, which curves upwards and ends with a pointy spike.
“What is this?”
“A weapon of my people. The Romans would call it a francisca,” he replies. “At least those who encountered it and lived to tell the tale. I just call it what it is — a throwing axe.”
There’s another of the weapons lying at his feet. He picks it up and begins to whet the blades against each other.
“I see you’re fond of axes.”
“Nothing quite like it when you’re out on a campaign, boy. A sword is great, if you can afford it — and have access to a good bladesmith to repair it. But any village blacksmith knows how to make an axe head, and then you just need to find a sturdy enough stick, and —”
He throws the francisca again and another cabbage head is destroyed in the blink of an eye. This time, he goes to pick it up himself.
“You can’t do that with a sword,” he says. “Many a skull was split by these two beauties, back in the day.”
He hands me back the weapon. I glimpse my reflection in the polished blade. I run my finger against the sharp edge in admiration, and then I remember.
Fulco shrugs. He unties the ribbon binding his long black hair in a tight bob and lets it fall to his shoulders. He’s the only adult man in the villa to wear his hair like this.
“Christian, pagan, there’s no difference to the blade. They all die the same, no matter where they’re going after that.”
“Then the rumours are true. You don’t believe in God.”
He scoffs, and I note to myself that it’s probably best not to irritate a man twice my size, holding a foot-long flying axe as if it was a whittling knife.
“Which God?” he asks, flipping the weapon in his hand.
“There is only one.”
“Ah, but is there?”
I glance around nervously. This isn’t the kind of thing I’d like anyone to hear me discuss.
“Calm down, boy. Paulinus and Pascent know all about it.”
He looks up to the sky, at a buzzard flying through a gap in the clouds.
“See, here’s what I think happened.” He crouches and draws the sign of the cross in the sand with the pointy end of the blade. “God appeared to the Romans as a shepherd in the desert, right?”
That’s not strictly true, but I’m reminded of the axe in his hand and nod in agreement.
“And that’s fair. That’s what they’re familiar with. But what would a desert shepherd be doing in the North, where you and I come from? Wouldn’t it make more sense for God to appear in the guise of a wise wanderer, clad in a grey woollen cloak, thick enough to withstand our winters?” He draws another sign beside the cross, one that resembles a Greek upsilon. “He even got himself stuck on a tree, like that Jesus. An ash tree, no less.” He winks at me.
I have never heard about these pagan beliefs before, not in any sort of detail. I yearn to hear more, but I fear of what might happen to me — to my mortal soul — if I do.
“And is that what you believe?”
He stands up and juggles the axe in the air. “Eh. I was raised to believe in one bunch of gods, then was told to worship another. I saw people die and kill for believing in both. Now I don’t know which one to follow. I pray to the Roman God out of respect to Adelheid and her husband… but I also worship the gods of the Franks, out of respect to my ancestors.”
His explanation makes a surprising amount of sense to me. I realise I have no answer — and, I guess, neither did Paulinus when confronted with Fulco’s peculiar brand of philosophy, since he resigned himself to allow the Frank to continue his practices.
“I wish I knew what my ancestors believed in…” I say quietly.
He rubs my hair. “Oh, I’m sure I can help you with that. Franks, Saxons, Alemanns — we were all neighbours once, we all share the same gods, under different names.”
I look up, wondering if he realises how exciting this new information sounds to my ears. At last, a chance to learn something — anything, beyond faint glimpses of the past — about my ancestors, maybe about my real family… How much does he really know — and how much of it is relevant to me and my people?
“Just let me know when you wish to talk about it. We’ll find a more…” He lowers his voice and glances around. “… suitable place.”