Excerpts & Characters from Offa - The Winter Forest, JVK's utterly brilliant & Epic Fantasy!
Offa: Leader, soldier, and a rather good cook!
That night, I held a council of war. Well, truth be told, it was more of a dinner party to which my most trusted advisers were invited. We had many such meetings.
In preparation, I’d ordered the steaming of twenty fine lobsters. With their crushed carcasses, in a Hispanian-style pan that was nearly as wide as my arm is long, I’d made a rich sauce by adding a paste made from sun-dried figs, garlic, and dried basil. I’d added ground wheat flour as a thickening agent and then, once cooked through, I added the liquor of an extremely rare, intense, lemon essence, which I did ignite to set the whole pan ablaze, a spectacle that greatly pleased my guests. The Lobster flesh was served upon a bed of my most precious rice, journeyed from far Alexandria, and then covered with the sauce and served with warm bread. And tho it was a night to freeze the milk in a goat’s udder, I did serve a dry white wine from Eastern Gaul which would balance the richness of the dish.
Gregory - Offa's right hand man:
‘How would such information benefit us?’ Gregory asked.
‘Because I suspect a politically successful Vespasian would have little time for Plautius and Britannia, and that could be of benefit to us,’ I replied.
‘To you, you mean.’
‘Of course,’ I shrugged, ‘but when have mine own ambitions excluded those of our camp?’
‘Tis a very fragile fence that you would choose to sit upon, Dominus, and there is nowt but deep mire to both sides of it.’
‘Where there is mire, there is often gold,’ I replied.
‘Do we therefore forsake Druwyff and his folk?’
‘Not at all,’ I replied.
‘Then how do we proceed?’
‘We make Caradog the folk hero of Britannia and the villain of Rome. We establish his great reputation. We enhance his skills in warfare. We help him keep Plautius away from the Elfydd. And when the time comes that the invasion is irresistible, which we both know is a certainty, we will make a great tribute to Vespasian. One that will regain our freedom and our rights,’ I said with much conviction.
‘Why, Dominus, is that so important to you?’
I looked down at the river’s surface, and then I did myself, spit down into it.
‘The tide is slack,’ I pointed out, ‘and soon it will turn. Do you know what a change of tide brings, good Gregory?’
‘Nay, but I suspect it has something to do with trouble,’ he grumped.
I slapped his great shoulder and agreed, ‘That it does. Trouble and something else.’
‘Very well, I’ll bite. What else?’ He turned his most noble chin towards me.
‘Revenge,’ I told him.
Eleri - Outcast by her village for killing her abusive husband:
The ice groaned and the sound echoed around the valley, daemon-like in its tone.
‘Mother and Father are having at it,’ said Eleri, looking out over the river. (Note: Mother and Father are religious ideas)
‘Having at it?’
‘Yes, Father wishes to ride her little pony, but Mother denies him. Also, they argue about who will dominate, as Father feels like it’s his turn.’ She pushed back her hood to look directly at me.
‘Riding her little pony,’ I said, flatly.
‘Yes, Lord. Do you not ride little ponies?’
‘Not when there are trusted mules to be found,’ I replied, stoically.
Her eyes laughed at me, whilst her lips remained firmly shut. She sensed my discomfort with this particular conversation and, feeling like I had to put a stop to it, I told her, ‘Eleri, I’m certain that you have a very desirable little pony, but you should not waste your time thinking about me in the saddle.’
‘But my mouth is healed, and I keep it clean just for you,’ she protested.
Guider - Trader:
From the North, a rider appeared, and tho he was covered by a heavy cloak, there was no disguising the fine horse that bore him; it was Guider, right enough. From the other direction, a stable lad came and joined us, and it was he who went out into the rain to attend Guider’s horse. Guider dismounted, but instead of rushing to join us, he did first take his horse’s head in his hands, and I saw him give her a morsel to chew upon, and he whispered something in her ear, and she was calm and docile as the boy led her off towards the stables.
Such is the way of a man who commands great respect. First, he must give it.
Afric - Princess of the Elfydd:
‘Your Roman tongue is as slick as the oil of your olives that you do so consume,’ she laughed at me.
‘Have you ever tried that oil?’ I raised an eyebrow at her.
‘Yes, Guider does occasionally trade in it, and my father does use it in his concoctions, but I would never eat it.’
‘You should try, for it may also slicken your tongue,’ I chided her gently.
‘I did not mean to speak so harshly, but I am not your woman. Would you want me as your wife, Roman?’ she demanded.
‘Why do you refer to me as Roman whenever you ask a difficult question?’
‘There is a side to you that I do despise,’ she admitted, softly.
‘And yet, one of the very first things your father offered to me, was you,’ I pointed out.
‘That was back when he thought you could protect us through your alliance with the Romans. Now, you must show him your worth when it comes to defying the Romans.’
Druwyff - Leader of the Elfydd:
‘We are the keepers of this forest, for it is surely one of the last of its kind. As you travel onwards to meet up with your fellow Romans, you will come to see how folk ravish the land with their farming and their roads. Soon enough, we will be driven back to the sea, and thence my people, who are amongst the most ancient, will be forgotten. I am Druwyff, a son of the Great Father, and my name will matter not to those who proceed me.’
Esgar - Leader of Mining community:
The man called Esgar did indeed, get out of his chair to stand, but he may not have bothered as it did little to elevate him.
‘Stand on your chair!’ Someone suggested loudly. And Esgar was forced to wait while the laughter again subsided.
‘There are stories of dragons that dwell in our caves that do breathe fire. For generations, folk were afeared to mine deeply least they disturbed those beasts. But our love of gold was greater than our fear, and once there were no more easy pickings, we did indeed, dig deeply, and what wonders were uncovered! Wherever we mined, there was fire-rock. Great mounds of the stuff we did make. And then we were afeared that we had also dug up the dragons, for sometimes those mounds would burst into fire for no apparent reason, and it was a fire that could not be extinguished. Now, we make only small mounds, so small that there is nowhere for dragons to hide!’
Caradog - Would-be King of the Silures:
‘I apologise deeply for having ordered your demise. Here…’ He pulled an elaborate, golden torc from around his neck, and tossed it carelessly at me, ‘now we are friends!’ he announced.
Caradog chewed at a pig’s rib, his fat lips glossy with grease, and his rust-coloured beard wet from careless swigging from his copper, ale filled cup.
I regarded him carefully, noting that, despite his gruff, stout, yet manly stature, his features were surprisingly feminine. His lips were plump and their skin supple-looking and unblemished. His eyes were ovaloid and of the richest blue, and they possessed dark, curling lashes that one of Rome’s finest harlots would have been mightily proud to flutter.