Official Launch August 15, 2017, 10:00 – 16:00
at Ye Old Shambles Tavern, York
Come along and meet the author
“The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it.”
Darquin, son of Kirian and Isolde was born on a Gallic- Romano estate in the shadow of the ancient Audean, fortified town of Bibracte on Mont Beuvray.
The chance discovery of the simmering love affair between Darquin and Helena, the betrothed teenage daughter of estate owner Tiberius, when caught in a passionate embrace, results in him being banished from the Villa. He is forced to join his cousin Arrius in a unit of Audean cavalry, which was attached to Roman reinforcements, destined to join Proconsul Marcus Licinius Crassus in Syria. The Roman Army suffer a crushing defeat at Carrhae. The Audean cavalry unit, isolated from the main force are captured by a group of mercenaries. They choose to join their captors with whom they travel to Ferghana, the Valley of the White Horses.
When Zhizhi Chanyu, leader of a group of Xiongnu tribesmen demanded from the town an annual tribute as insurance against attack, one hundred horses are sent, accompanied by both Audeans and Ferghanians, to his fort. Advancing from Kashgar towards Zhizhi was an army of the Han Empire, determined to end barbarian control over the trading routes into their country.
Caught in the ensuing siege, the group from Ferghana help with the defence of the fort. The bloody battle ends in victory for General Chen and his allies. One hundred and forty prisoners are taken, all belonging to the group from Ferghana whose tactics had impressed the General.
Darquin and his companions are taken to Chen’s headquarters at Kashgar but are dismayed when they are set one final task: to prove their allegiance to the Emperor. Their reward for success, will be a permanent settlement in the county of Liqian to end their eventful journey in peace.
Execution will be the price of failure.
HE REMEMBERED WITH AFFECTION how his mother had sat on the stone floor outside the kitchen, her back leaning against the wall, exhausted from her full day’s labour in the heat of the midsummer’s kitchen. The food and drink having been set before the guests, she and the kitchen slaves had eaten a few scraps and now all she wanted was bed. She hoped that tonight it would be her own unless Tiberius, tired of the dancing girls and full of oysters, sent for her.
Whilst in conversation with his mother, Darquin saw Helena slowly walking through the herb garden. Arrius and Helena were his closest friends with whom he had grown up. Helena, who through their childhood had never seemed tired of teasing him. Soon both his friends will have gone on paths planned by their respective parents. Only he would remain at the villa.
Both he and Helena were now approaching adulthood and one day soon, she was to be married to the son of one of her father’s Roman business partners. Arrius had left the previous year and now she too would have to leave the villa and live in the ancient port of Narbo Martius, where her husband was involved in buying fish from the local fleet and selling it on to the various production warehouses belonging to the garum manufacturers.
Helena was the child whom his father had saved from the river and an icy grave. Dear Helena who, despite their different social standing in the villa, had been his constant companion throughout childhood. He had been allowed to share lessons with her in the villa. His master had employed a tutor from the nearby town which was fast overtaking the cultural excellence of Bibracte. They competed at lessons as well as at sport. His gaze again lifted from the group below him and saw, not the heat haze on Full Moon lake below, but the cool waters of a lake deep in his memory.
He remembered that hot, sunny day when, free from lessons, he had walked to the lake and Helena had discovered him swimming naked in the cool water. Their friendship had blossomed into a passionate love beneath the shade of the willow trees as they became aware of each other’s bodies.
Walking to the kitchen door, he looked across the garden as the cool evening breeze sculptured her white dress to her body, caressing each and every one of her curves. She stood statuesque in the bright moonlight. Her beribboned black hair fell down her back in sharp contrast to her white dress. Although the same age as Darquin, she looked like an ageless, desirable goddess, but one who, as daughter of Tiberius, was unattainable. He had left his mother and walked quietly into the garden.
On hearing footsteps behind her, she turned. ‘Are you following me, Darquin?’
‘No,’ he answered quietly.
‘Why then are you here? Guarding me, my faithful servant?’
‘If any other should ask, then, yes. Those yonder soldiers seem to have sampled too much of your father’s ale!’
She smiled, ‘They dare not touch me, drunken oafs, and if they did my father would set the dogs on them! You may accompany me down to the river, my brave one.’
Hidden from the house they stood hand in hand by the riverbank, watching the beams of silver moonlight glistening on the slow-moving river.
‘Do you not think that Caecilia Metella is beautiful?’ she asked.
‘Indeed she is, for a Roman!’ he mused. ‘But no one is as beautiful as you, Helena.’
Close in the nearby wood, they heard the song of a nightjar. The distant music and laughter carried across the still, balmy night air. They heard one of the soldiers whom Darquin had run into earlier in the afternoon. Oblivious to their presence, the soldier was half carrying, half dragging, a giggling kitchen maid into a nearby thicket. There, as Darquin and Helena stood side by side, two shafts of light suddenly shot across the night sky. Turning to him she said softly ‘Look shooting stars! See how they follow one after the other across the sky, it is a sign!’
He heard her breathing quicken, and slowly he slid his arm around her waist. She turned and threw her arms around his neck. Their lips pressed together as he caressed her ample breasts.
‘One final time before I leave’ she whispered.
They exchanged a passionate kiss as they first knelt and then lay side by side in the lush, sweet smelling grass.
‘Helena,’ Darquin stammered. ‘Helena I—’
Suddenly she screamed and at the same time he felt a hand grab at his blonde hair and pull him away from her. As he struggled to his feet his master’s ringed fist struck his cheek, sending him into oblivion.
Harold was born in Manchester in 1942 and attended Princess Road Primary school. He also attended St Margaret’s Central School, Chorlton Technical School and St John’s College.
Before taking early retirement, Harold worked for the Electric supply industry for 33 years. In the intervening years, Harold’s writing research for Pawn of Destiny has taken in China, France, Italy and Corfu.
He is also a keen researcher of the Boardman family history.
Harold now lives in York and is a proud Grandad of 5; Romey, Willow, Ben, Amelie and Alex. He believes that “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
Inspiration for the Story
“My inspiration to write this story came from a TV documentary, about eight years ago, made by David Harris, an Australian writer, in which he searched for Li-jien / Zhelai Zhai, an ancient “Roman” city in China. This prompted me to read his book ‘Black Horse Odyssey: Search for the Lost City of Rome in China’ which I found equally fascinating.
I began to research the background for a novel. My story’s timeline was originally based on details from his travels and the theories of H.H.Dubs, a 20th century American sinologist. A full bibliography was included in my draft. I wrote to him mentioning my project and he replied, “Get the book written the best way you wish it to be. Whatever, the long quest of your book will lead you to delightfully unpredictable consequences. Full speed, I say.” ”