The Shielmaiden’s Song Book Two and Three – New Release and Pre-order

All is not well in Britannia Prima.

Though Princess Madron had helped her husband Honorius defeat the four-year-long revolt, and was blessed with a second child – a son – dark clouds are still gathering over the Dux’s throne. The rebellious nobles remain unplacated, the borders are still aflame, and a new menace of the Gewisse Saxons threatens the lines of trade and communication with the rest of Britannia.

Worse still, the old Dux Ambrosius is dying. Before he leaves this mortal world, he wants to ensure his legacy, and secure the inheritance of his son, Honorius – and the newly-born grandson – against the rebels and barbarians.To this end, he agrees to an alliance with the Bishop of Lindocoln on the eastern coast – a coast ravaged by a mysterious, newly arrived pirate fleet.

Madron joins her husband and his warriors on a expedition to aid the Bishop – but as she ventures into the inhospitable marshes around Lindocoln, she’s about to discover a conspiracy of vast proportions, stretching far beyond the Narrow Sea, all the way to the Imperial Gaul and Frankia.

Return to the Britannia of the Arthurian Age, and travel to Frankia of the Merovingians, in this new adventure in the best-selling The Song of Britain saga – second book of the The Song of MadronOUT NOW ON AMAZON.

Five years after Madron’s return from Frankia, an unexpected visitor arrives at the capital of Britannia Prima: an envoy from Dux Syagrius of Gaul, ruler of the last existing remnant of the Western Empire.

In the ten years since Odowakr the Skir took Rome from the last Emperor and made himself a King of Italia, no usurper, general or politician managed to gain enough support to oust him. That may soon change – as Dux Syagrius announces he is to march on Italia and take the Emperor’s throne for himself. He’s seeking allies in this endeavour – and he’s asked Madron and her husband, Dux Honorius, to join him.

But before they can decide on how to answer this call to arms, there’s trouble closer to home. Utir, brother of the late Dux Ambrosius, is stirring a rebellion in the north, and needs to be dealt with. There’s only one trouble: Utir is not only a seasoned general, perhaps the finest commander in the province – he’s also build himself a loyal and powerful army, and locked himself in the mighty Roman fortress of Dewa.

The final chapter in The Song of Madron saga – The Shieldmaiden’s Throne – a tale of intrigue and survival in the shadow of a looming tragedy – OUT ON PREORDER ON AMAZON

The Shieldmaiden’s Honour – Map Reveal

The Shieldmaiden’s Honour is done and dusted, ready for release. I’ve moved it a week ahead, so it’ll be available for purchase a week from now. About time, then, to show off the map created for the book.

It’s the coasts of the English Channel and the North Sea this time: the marshes of the Ikens, and the swamps of Frisia, beyond the Empire’s borders – Netherlands and Belgium, from the dunes of Southern Holland to the Charcoal Woods of Wallonia.

BRITANNIA AND NORTHERN GAUL, CA. 480 AD

The Shieldmaiden’s Honour – locations

Busy day today – finished proof-reading of the final manuscript of “The Shieldmaiden’s Honour“, and reached a one-third point in the first draft of Madron’s last story, “The Shieldmaiden’s Throne” – soon out for pre-order. It’s some two weeks until the “Honour’s” release, so it’s about Ttime for the traditional Locations post.

This time, Madron ventures into lands we haven’t seen yet in the Song of Britain: the muddy, damp, mosquito-infested marshes of Lincolnshire and Holland. Accordingly, the locations are almost all new – at least until we’re back in the more familiar territory of Frankia.

RATH – Ratae Corieltauvorum, Leicester

The capital of the Corieltauvi, as strategically placed then as it is now, in the middle of Roman Britannia. By 5th century, like most cities on the island, declined into near-abandonment.

LINDOCOLN – Lindum Colonia, Lincoln

The seat of a Bishop and a likely capital city of the Flavia province, Lindum Colonia was once one of the four great cities of Roman Britannia. The artificial canal linking it with the sea was one of the greatest feats of Roman engineering, and its remains can be seen to this day.

THE FENS

A landscape ancient already in Roman times, of bog causeways thousands of years old, clumps of trees hiding old forts, and salt pans worked by the slaves of Roman landlords.

FLEVUM CASTRUM – Velsen, Netherlands

Though not named in the book, the fort in the dunes is based on the fairly recently discovered Roman fortress of Flevum. This oddly shaped fortification was first built in Caligula’s times, perhaps as base for the future conquest of Britain, far north from what would later become the Imperial Limes.

NOUIOMAGUM – Noviomagus Batavorum, Nijmegen, Netherlands

One of the two oldest cities in the Netherlands, guarding a crucial crossing over a branch of the Rhine, Nijmegen’s position was as important in the days of the Empire as it would be in 1944 during the ill-fated Market-Garden operation.

TRAIECT – Traiectum ad Mosam, Maastricht, Netherlands

Return for a brief visit to Traiect – suffering even further decline from the last time we’ve been here. Now on a border between Salians and Ripuarian Franks.

Tornac – Tornacum, Tournai, Wallonia

Childeric I was the second and last king to be buried in the Salian Franks’ first capital city, Tornacum. His son Clovis would eventually move his seat of power further south, to Paris – and from there proceed to conquer what would later become France.

An old tavern on the Rhine.

While travelling around Europe, there are several ways one can immerse oneself in the remains of everyday life of Ancient Rome. The most obvious is to go to Pompeii – or one of the less well-known excavated cities like Italica near Seville or Ostia near Rome. But however well-preserved these ruins might be, they will always be just ruins – and sometimes, to get the full picture of what life of a Roman citizen was, especially on the more remote frontiers, you have to visit a reconstruction.

The amphitheatre of Italica

One such reconstruction we saw this year is on the edge of an ancient German town of Xanten – known to Romans as Colonia Ulpia Traiana, one of the largest and most important Roman settlements in the province of Germania, second only to CCAA (now Cologne). In its heyday, it was home to more than 10,000 former legionnaires and their families.

Of the original city, very little remains beyond some foundations. You can find better preserved ancient ruins even elsewhere in Germany, not to mention France or Spain. But this isn’t why you come to Xanten. The main attraction here are the full-scale, full-colour reconstructions of several Roman structures, set within the original city grid. Most interesting of all – a Roman guesthouse and tavern.

I write a lot about such places in my books. It’s an easy and useful fiction plot device – a chance meeting at a roadside mansio, conspirators plotting in a guesthouse, a feast thrown in the harbour tavern; but it’s often difficult to visualise what, actually, such a tavern would look like. It’s too easy to fall for medieval or fantasy tropes – you know the sort: a large wooden house with a thatched roof, filled with drunken barbarians sitting by the long tables, while a buxom barmaid brings them tankards of ale… But that’s nowhere near what the real thing looked like. If anything, a high class guesthouse like this looked more like a traditional Japanese ryokan, both in materials used, and in the overal mood and layout of the place.

There are the well-known bars and taverns of Pompeii to use as inspiration – but these are urban facilities, from the heart of the Empire, and some four hundred years too old for my needs; the Xanten guesthouse stood on the Empire’s edge, on the Rhine – the city was a base for the Rhine navy, and had substantial harbour – facing the barbarian forests on the other side of the river; this was the sort of place where weary merchants, envoys on official business and other travellers passing through the frontier would mingle together over goblets of Rhenish wine. Or, if you had a few more solidii in your purse and didn’t care for the company of others, you’d have your meals brough from the kitchen t to the private dining room, the triclinium, with the view of the garden, after which you’d pray at the convenient local shrine and head for the lavishly decorated bathroom.

All of this can be explored at the Xanten guesthouse, and it is a real treat. Best of all, the common dining hall functions as a restaurant serving Roman food – back after nearly two millennia! (unfortunately it was not yet open when we were there) After visiting the tavern, your next stop has to be the brand new, fascinating museum, housing among other artefacts, the flat-bottomed Rhine merchant barges, dug out of mud virtually intact.

I’ve been to many magnificent ruins in my life: I’ve been to Pompeii and to Rome, I’ve been to Caerleon and to Housesteads – but the Xanten guesthouse was the one that probably gave me the best insight into an average citizen of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. I can’t recommend it enough.

The treasure of Tournai

In 1653, in a small Wallonian town of Tournai, builders excavating a cellar at the back of Saint Bryce’s church, across the river from the ancient city centre, came upon an immense hoard of gold, jewels and other treasure – among them, still resting on the finger bones of the individual buried with this unbelievable wealth, a golden ring with the inscription: Childerici Regis.

Here was the tomb of Childeric I, the first historical ruler of the Salian Franks – and father of Clovis I, the first king of all Frankia. Here was proof that Tournai – which started out as Tornacum, a backwater Roman settlement on the road to Cologne, and ended as a somewhat backwater Belgian town on the border with France, was the birthplace of modern France, of the Carolingian Empire – of Europe itself. For the French, it was the equivalent of discovering a tomb of Uther Pendragon, King Arthur’s father – if King Arthur was real, and all the treasure within intact.

The most famous, and mysterious, of all the treasure were the 27 gold-and-garnet (the Franks loved garnet) “bees” or “cicadas”, which would have been sown into the king’s garments – the clothes having rotted away, they “bees” remained in place around the skeleton. These were, according to some, tribal symbols of the Salian Franks – which, over the centuries, have evolved into the fleur-de-lys symbol of French kings – and were taken up as crest by Napoleon.

The treasure, having survived twelve centuries under ground, did not survive the next two. After a long odyssey, during which it found itself in Vienna, then in Paris, in the chaos of mid-19th century France, the treasure was stolen from its keeping place in National Library – and unceremoniously melted for its gold and jewels. Little of it remained, including two of the bees – and some copies of sword and equipment thankfully made soon after the discovery.

I visited Tournai earlier this year – along with a number of other places in Belgium and Netherlands where parts of my books take place, and it was a strange, exhilarating feeling to walk the town’s streets in the footsteps of Childeric, Clovis and Queen Basina (spoiler alert – I return to Tornacum and Frankia in “The Shieldmaiden’s Honour“). Today it’s a sleepy border town. Oddly enough, there’s barely any mention of its ancient royal past anywhere. The most prominent and celebrated monument is its enormous, looming Romanesque cathedral – the seat of the first Bishop of the Franks, Eleutherius – a medieval bridge gate over the Scheldt, and the town square; I can’t imagine an English town behave in such a way – one only needs to visit Tintagel or Glastonbury to know how many “Childeric Fries”, “Clovis Herbal Teas” or “Basina’s Roman Spa” should there be in Tournai, to bring in the tourists. I guess a real king is not as profitable as a legendary one…

New Pre-order! What, already? Yes!

But it’s only been a week since “The Shieldmaiden’s Pride” Release!

Sure, I hear you. However! The writing on “The Shieldmaiden’s Honour” has been going so well – so far – that I can already announce the pre-order going live today, as an Amazon exclusive. The tentative release date is December, which should give me plenty of time to polish the manuscript, but I may be able to launch it even sooner than that.

So head over to Amazon and click that Pre-order button!

All is not well in Britannia Prima.

Though Princess Madron had helped her husband Honorius defeat the four-year-long revolt, and was blessed with a second child – a son – dark clouds are still gathering over the Dux’s throne. The rebellious nobles remain unplacated, the borders are still aflame, and a new menace of the Gewisse Saxons threatens the lines of trade and communication with the rest of Britannia.

Worse still, the old Dux Ambrosius is dying. Before he leaves this mortal world, he wants to ensure his legacy, and secure the inheritance of his son, Honorius – and the newly-born grandson – against the rebels and barbarians.To this end, he agrees to an alliance with the Bishop of Lindocoln on the eastern coast – a coast ravaged by a mysterious, newly arrived pirate fleet.

Madron joins her husband and his warriors on a expedition to aid the Bishop – but as she ventures into the inhospitable marshes around Lindocoln, she’s about to discover a conspiracy of vast proportions, stretching far beyond the Narrow Sea, all the way to the Imperial Gaul and Frankia.

Return to the Britannia of the Arthurian Age, and travel to Frankia of the Merovingians, in this new adventure in the best-selling The Song of Britain saga – second book of the The Song of Madron.

The Shieldmaiden’s Pride – Release Day!

The third trilogy in the Song of Britannia saga – Madron’s story starts here!

Madron knows she’s destined to fame and renown. In her veins runs the blood of Wortigern, the great Dux of the eastern Britons, and of Eobba, the mighty warchief of the Iutes. Wars have been fought for her hand. Her union with the western Dux’s son brought peace to the divided land. Their child is the hope for the entire nation’s future.

But there are many who don’t want to see that future. Bands of paid warriors strike at her and her husband, forcing Madron to seek safety in the place she left many years ago, but still calls home: the greatest city in Britannia, Londin. Here, she will stumble upon an even greater conspiracy – one that threatens not only her family, but to engulf the whole island in flames of a new war.

And her only clue to discover who’s behind it all is one half of a golden solidus…

A new heroine – a new band of comrades – a new mystery – and a whole brand new story in the best-selling series The Song Of Britain – The Song of Madron!

I admit I’m a bit worried about how this one will be received. It’s my first time writing from a woman’s POV – never an easy task for a male writer – and it’s the first book in the saga that is less focused on war and battles – though there still are some! – and more on a kind of detective, introspective work, a sort of Dark Age-Noir story. We’ll see how it goes – too late to stop now, I’ve already got half of the next book plotted out! I like it – hope you will too!

– James Calbraith

The Shieldmaiden’s Pride – locations

It’s two weeks until release of “The Shieldmaiden’s Pride” – the adventures of a young half-Iute girl in eastern Britannia at the fall of the Empire… It’s been a while since I spent such a significant amount of story time in Londin and its immediate neighbourhood. All the familiar places and faces are coming back – some, perhaps, for the last time…? But with so much focus on Britannia Maxima, I can dive into this part of the island in more detail, and visit some regions that until now have only been mentioned in passing.

WERLAM – Verulamium, St. Albans, Hertfordshire

The capital of Catuvellauni, and a city which at times wished to rival Londinium for primacy over the entire province. It grew to renewed prominence when relics of St Alban were ‘found’ here by Germanus of Auxerre, and the modern town grew around the mighty cathedral that holds them.

DORCIC – Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

A tentative name, one of the few proposed for the fortified town guarding an important crossing on the upper Thames, future Dorchester’s main claim to fame is that it’s purported to be the original settlement of the Gewisse tribe, who would later come to rule Wessex, and eventually all of England. It boasts some of the earliest Saxon settlement remains outside the coastal areas.

SPINIS – Speen, Berkshire

Now a tiny village in Berkshire, it was once the place where the Ermine Way, the main highway from Corinium to Londinium, met the road from Aquae Sulis.

DUROLIPONS, DUROBRIWA, DUROWIGUT – Duroliponte, Durobrivae, Durovigutum – Water Newton, Cambrige, Godmanchester

A confusingly similarly named cluster of settlements in what is now Cambridgeshire, strewn along the road to Lincoln astride the borders of Britannia Maxima and Britannia Secunda.

BELGIAN WENTA – Venta Belgarum, Winchester

Once a capital of the Belgian civitas, it suffered severe decline after the end fo Roman rule – only to be rebuilt as the capital of Wessex, and the heart of Anglo-Saxon England, centuries later.

CLAWSENT – Clausentium, Southampton

We last saw Clawsent when young Ash visited it searching allies against Aelle, in the Saxon Might. It hasn’t changed much since then – still a backwater harbour, dreaming of its ancient glories. It will remain thus until the Saxons build a new market town of Hamtun, on the other side of the estuary – later renamed Southhampton.

LEMAN – Portus Lemanis, Lympne

A Saxon Shore fort, a navy base, and the second largest harbour of ancient Kent after Dover, though the current village of Lympne has little in common with its predecessor except the name.

CORIN, GLEWA, SULIAN WATERS – Corinium, Glevum, Aquae Sulis – Cirencester, Gloucester, Bath

The three great cities of Western Britannia, surviving the longest against the Saxon onslaught of later centuries. We know they were sometimes grouped together as one powerful cluster, since they are recorded to have all been lost to Ceawlin’s West Saxons after the Battle of Dyrham in 577.

The Shieldmaiden’s Pride – Map Reveal

“The Shieldmaiden’s Pride” – Book One of the new trilogy, The Song of Madron – is now in the final editing and proofreading stages, with the release scheduled for July 1st – but I can’t wait to show off the maps that will be in the book. Keen-eyed readers will recognise I used one of the earliest maps from Saxon Might as base for this one, but with added detail and some changes in political geography in the 25 years since the period of that book.

BARBARIAN SETTLEMENT IN BRITANNIA, 475 AD

The Villas of Song of Britain

In “The Shieldmaiden’s Pride”, the story returns to mainland Britain, as seen by the natives of this land. The characters journey through the island, from hillfort to fortress, from town to villa – so it’s a good moment to run through some of the real-life villas of Roman Britain that have popped up throughout the series so far, and that will appear in the next book.

THE SAXON SPEARS:

ARIMINUM – Beddington Park, London

The one that started it all – the Beddington Park villa, near which I lived for a few years in London, and which inspired me to start writing The Saxon Spears.

QUINTUS NATALIUS’s VILLA – Crofton, Orpington

Ten miles due east from Ariminum, a crumbling villa belonging to Pascent’s neighbour, Quintus Natalius – where Ash and Eadgith last saw each other before parting ways for years.

THE SAXON KNIVES:

WORTIMER’S VILLA IN ROBRIWIS – Cobham Park, Kent

Rhedwyn ruled a settlement of Iutes and Britons here for a while, when the villa‘s grounds were confiscated during Wortimer’s brief exile.

CATUAR’S VILLA IN NEW PORT – Brighton, Sussex

A small villa to which the Regin Comes moved from his palace in Bignor as his wealth and importance diminished. Later, Rex Aelle took it for residence, when setting up the South Saxon capital in New Port.

THE SAXON MIGHT:

EADGITH’S VILLA – Newport, Isle of Wight

The half-ruined villa on Wecta, from which Eadgith ruled the small Iute colony.

THE CROWN OF THE IUTES:

MUTUANTON VILLA – Barcombe Mills, Sussex

The white-washed palace on the hill near Mutuanton, where Aelle kept the Briton nobles hostage.

MUTUANTON ISLAND VILLA – Beddingham Sussex

The ruined villa in the marshes, where the Saxon force kept in check the Briton army on the hill fort.

THE SHIELDMAIDEN’S PRIDE:

SOUTH SHORE VILLA – Southwark, London

Recently discovered near the London Bridge, I used this lavish mansio as basis for the South Shore ‘entertainment’ villa.

PUBLIAN’S VILLA – Rutland, near Peterborough

Though not visited in the story itself, Publian’s house – and its Homeric mosaic – plays a crucial part in the plot.

DORCIC PRAETOR’S VILLA – Wittenham Clumps, Dorchester-on-Thames

Another villa only mentioned in the story – the Praetor of Dorcic prefers to live here, in the remains of a hill fort across the river from the town he governs.