BAREFOOT CHILDREN RAN beside the great grey horse of their king, whooping and cheering. Uther looked down and grunted his pleasure, throwing a handful of small brass Roman sestertii he kept for such moments. They had travelled thirty miles in a slow celebration of victory from the south coast and could now see the stone walls and gatehouse of Venta Bulgarum as the sun dipped to the west.
Rose petals rained down over Uther and his knights as they passed through the impressive arched gatehouse – wide enough for two ox carts to pass side by side. Townsfolk clad in a mix of animal hides and woollen garments lined the street and hung from the porticos of terraced two-storey houses that led to the forum. Uther dismounted and was greeted by his smiling daughter, Morgana, her long black hair splayed out over the shoulders of her white, gold-edged gown. She placed a bejeweled golden crown on his head of dusty black and grey curls as he handed her his conical steel helmet. He laughed as he kissed her lightly on the cheek and proceeded up the flight of a dozen worn steps to flagging stones lined by rows of Corinthian columns before what was once the magistrate’s hall.
He ignored his fawning chancellor, Danius, and turned to address the gathering. “My people, we have indeed returned in triumph and have chased the devilish Jutes back to their Isle of Vectis!” The crowd, glad of some good news, cheered and threw handfuls of petals into the air, blowing red, blue and violet in the gentle breeze.
Uther grinned and continued. “We have reclaimed the great sea fort of Portus Adurni and have left a garrison there from our Regnii brothers who are charged with keeping the peace. There was a great slaughter of Jutes, and their villages rendered to ashes.” Boos rang out and some gestured with thumbs pointing down. Uther knew too well the anxieties and deep insecurity of his people.
“They have been greatly reduced in number, with less than one-tenth of their warriors eluding our blades to escape in their boats. They will lick their wounds on Vectis, and we will raise a fleet to invade them there in the spring!” Loud cheers and clapping filled the square as Uther raised his hands to calm them. “Tonight, a feast! Bring your tables to this square and let us share our victuals with our neighbours. I shall send ale and roast meats!” He backed away into the shade of the portico as cries of “Hail Uther!” rang out.
Uther's Destiny is the third book in the Light in the Dark Ages series of books by Tim Walker.