Authors: F J Atkinson
The Dominic Trilogy in One Volume
F J Atkinson
Reviews for Atkinson’s writing
* * * * * A Great Read
I don't often take the time to review a book, but this is such an excellent read I had to put forth a few words of admiration.
Others have given excellent synopses of the story, but what I enjoyed were the interesting characters caught up in the difficult times in Dark Age Britain, as the invading Saxon peoples swept across the island. Having lived for centuries under the Pax Romana, the farms and villages in rural Britain were easy prey for the Germans seeking to displace and/or sell them as slaves
Dominic, Simon, Martha, Tomas—even the villainous Egbert—all were believably depicted and were three-dimensional and credible in their parts of the story. They were each for different reasons characters that I felt I understood and could see their responses to the difficult times in which they are found as completely believable given what I learned about them earlier in the book.
It doesn't happen often, but this is one of those books that I hated to find I had come to the end.
I look forward to the sequel.
With no equivation, this book deserves and I am pleased to give a five-star rating.
Bravo, Mr. Atkinson!
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A completely spellbinding book with well-developed characters and gritty story of hardship, struggle and bravery . . . an insight into what life was like in ancient Britain. Inspiring and uplifting ending.
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Grips you from the start
…can’t wait for a follow up.
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Couldn’t put it down
will be looking for this author again in the future
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…was enthralled throughout the entire novel…
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I’m really looking forward to the next installment.
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* A better than great read
The characters are "real. You feel their anger their sorrows and their happiness with a realism that is hard to achieve.
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I literally didn’t want the book to end. I can endorse it no better than that.
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This knocked me out. I'm still thinking about this book five days after I read it.
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Great follow up
A solid story that keeps you turning the pages. I'm a slow reader, but I probably got through this quicker than most.
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A well-crafted piece of writing and a brilliant sequel to The Red and Savage Tongue.
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I felt immersed in the time period, such was the power of the narrative. The pace, as ever, is unrelenting.
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`Dominic's Quest' is a triumph, and works on many levels. Totally intriguing from start to finish.
“Atkinson has become one of my favorite
historical fiction writers.”
“PLEASE continue on, whether it's with Dominic or other characters. Your writing is superb.”
“Was fully absorbed with this from cover to cover. A fitting end to a great series of books.”
“The description of the Battle of Badon Hill is amazing, you can envision and feel the Shield Wall in all its magnitude, it's death and destruction of humanity.”
“It moves fast, with the battle descriptions being excellent and the characters both real and fictional being the heroes we want to care about.”
“Out-Cornwells, Cornwell in his battle narrative.”
“A great accomplishment that placed me firmly amidst the stink and horror of a Saxon shield wall.”
The Red and Savage Tongue
BEING THE FIRST PART OF
Book one of the Dominic Trilogy
F J Atkinson
` For the fire . . . spread from sea to sea, fed by the hands of our foes in the east, and didn’t cease, until, destroying the neighbouring towns and lands, it reached the other side of the island, and dipped its red and savage tongue in the western ocean.
(c. 500AD - 570AD)
On the Anglo Saxon Invasion of Britain
Few men ever entered the wildwood. Indeed, the rumours of the dangers that lay within the primeval sprawl sufficed to persuade most folk to avoid even its perimeter. Murdoc, however, had little choice but to enter the forest, even though his every instinct told him to avoid it. In awe, he viewed its immensity from the overlook of a small hill, before turning his attention to the child who slept within the cradle of his arms. Instinctively, he hugged the infant close, allowing his body warmth to seep into her.
Recently witnessed horrors had put a vacant cast into the girl’s brown eyes. Murdoc fretted for her … agonised over her worsening state. He had to find the road rumoured to cut through the forest; it was their only hope.
Rome had cleared the passage as a marching road long ago and kept it in good repair—that much he knew. The imperialists were fastidious and paid every attention to detail, but they were long gone, having departed the shores of his homeland to fight foes closer to home. Still, he held the hope that the route remained clear of the choking brambles and stinging nettles which were quick to colonise any cleared ground. His task would be hopeless if the passageway had surrendered to the forest.
His gaze turned to his girl as she mumbled in her shallow sleep; her disquiet leading his mind yet again to the horrors of recent times.
Three days had passed since the raiders had destroyed nearly everything he held dear in life. Their arrival at his village had fostered mere confusion at first, but when the killing began, peasant bewilderment had quickly transpired into a horrified awareness. Then, the screams of the dying, injured and widowed had merged with the whoops and shouts of the raiders as they had taken to their task with a callous and unbridled savagery.
From a distance, Murdoc had witnessed the carnage; seen that few had been spared; watched impotently, his fisted hands pressed against his temples, as he sought to drive the hellish cacophony from his head. Yet even now the noise still festered within him, plaguing his dreams and causing him to awaken in distress from his infrequent bouts of shallow sleep.
‘Where’s mama?’ Ceola’s eyes opened in a squint against the morning light. Startled by her sudden awakening, Murdoc met her searching gaze. He had dreaded the question, yet was encouraged by her rare show of lucidity. Giving him scant time to reply, she spoke again. ‘I’ve seen you cry, da, when you think I’m asleep. Has mama left us? Is that why you cry?’
The dullness had gone from her eyes. Now they were big and expectant as she waited. Murdoc cleared his throat, unable to speak as his own emotions threatened to engulf him. The moment passed as Ceola awaited her answer. Slowly, her expectation eroded into despondency and she began to weep.
Penetrated, Murdoc stroked away the first emerging tear from her cheek. Brokenly, he gave his answer. ‘Yes … she’s gone from this world … but we’ll see her again one day …’
Near to breakdown, he fell silent, though he knew he had to bolster Ceola—give her reason to live through each day—even though it was so damned hard not to want to cry all the time. Moments passed and he gained a measure of control. Trying to sound positive and enthused, he whispered: ‘
They cannot hurt us now because we walked away from them;
we are alive
we are special
.’ The girl’s eyes widened at this, and Murdoc, encouraged, continued in the same manner. ‘
The forest will be our new home and hide us from them, and there you can play in the trees and swim in the streams
The girl looked at him; her small face a pale oval in the shadow of the cloak. ‘But I’m so tired and hungry, da. Can’t we just stop and sleep here for a while?’
Murdoc stood and peered anxiously behind him, then looked at Ceola. Gently, he said: ‘No—no—we cannot.’ He brushed away more of her tears, leaving intricate swirls of grime on her face. ‘We are still not safe, you see. Once we are in the woods,
we can stop and sleep. Wait a little while longer … just a little while my darling.’
With resolve, he strode purposely down towards the forest edge, rage now displacing his grief, as he swore his soul to the burning pit that a reckoning would be unleashed upon the men who had wrecked their lives.
Dominic did not fear the forest; he was aware of the dangers and had the skills to deal with them. However, experience had taught him that much of the folklore associated with the wilderness was true; the woods
be a dangerous place for the unprepared.
Village life with its responsibilities and constrictions had never much appealed to Dominic. Instead, he had always entered the woods to hunt and trap whenever he had found a spare moment—or whenever he was needed elsewhere for that matter. This had set him apart from his compatriots, who had viewed him as somewhat odd; they were unable to understand why he should choose to visit the perilous forest instead of working the fields or tending to livestock. Furthermore, he had chosen to hire his skills to the Romans before they had left the isle, and they had employed him as a tracker and scout. They had also shown him how to fight using their assorted weaponry.
In religious matters, too, he had always been his own man. To him, the old Celtic Gods blended naturally into the mysterious world he inhabited. Although Christianity was in decline, his fellow villagers had clung to their beliefs, and his vociferous attitude towards religious matters was yet another difference that set him apart from them. Finally, the homesteaders had considered his behaviour too strange and whimsical, and had given him the choice to either conform or leave. Having no family ties to keep him in the village (his parents were long dead, and his one brother wandering and lost, possibly dead himself), he had not needed long to ponder, and on a June evening ten years gone he had walked into the forest.
As a skilled woodsman he had no trouble surviving the first year of his new existence. Living the life of a hunter-gatherer during this time, he stayed in temporary shelters as he followed herds of deer and attended to his traps.
After a year, he adopted a dry cave as his home and made it a permanent and comfortable base. His range, though, was always within five miles of the forest edge. This allowed him speedy access to a string of habitations and markets from where he could trade his meat for provisions.
It was the recent discovery of a raided and abandoned village that had prompted Dominic to head even deeper into the woods and seek a new camp away from the trouble. Rumour had it that an ancient ruin lay forsaken and remote beyond the great swamp. This was unexplored land for him, but finding the ruin and using it as a stronghold and storehouse until the troubles declined became his intention. Unused for years, the trail he followed was tangled and difficult to traverse. To leave his arms free to fight through the thick forest undergrowth, he carried his sword across his shoulders and chest, secured by a cord. Seldom used, and his one luxury, the sword had cost him much of the produce of a month's trappings which he had given to the skilled village smith who had forged the blade.
His curses punctuated the silence of the forest as barbs and thorns tore at his skin and clothes. His progress though was unrelentingly towards the river, because regardless of impediment Dominic’s spirit was resolute and indomitable.
Three days over rough ground were to pass, and after a particularly prickly and stinging late afternoon, a testy and warm Dominic decided he would strike camp earlier than usual. He slumped to the ground, his forty-seven years weighing heavily upon him this day. After removing his wolf’s head hat—a trophy from a recent attack by a grey timber wolf—he smoothed back the sparse hair that grew around the sides of his head. He wrinkled his brow, thus exaggerating the deep furrows that were resident there. Two lines of scar tissue—one extending from the top of his forehead across his right eye and down to the corner of his mouth, the other a diagonal cut across his left cheek—were the result of a tavern brawl long ago. The top of his head was a mahogany dome, streaked now with the grime of days in the woods. He scratched at the grey stubble on his chin and drew his hands over his head in a hopeful, cleaning sweep.
He froze, his hands still atop his head, as a snuffling and grunting came from behind. Getting quickly to his feet with a grace that contradicted his years, he took his sword and peered into the green darkness behind the tree. He knew things were about to become
, but only silence met him. He walked a few steps towards where he judged the sound to have come from. The woods seemed to be waiting.
He began to tap the side of an adjacent tree with his sword, such was his discomfort with the stillness around him. He heard the sound again—this time nearer and coming from the undergrowth. On hearing it, he stuck his sword in the ground and drew his bow. He nocked an arrow and continued to wait.
Once more the noise abated, this time for several minutes, but the silence served only to put Dominic’s nerves on edge. His anxiety increased as he considered his situation. Just when he was at the end of his day the woods had decided to test him with this. As if hours wading through the damn brambles was not enough to punish a man.
Unable to stand the tension a moment longer, he decided to move and either draw out the creature or set it to flight. He shouted: ‘Come then shaggy one! … show yourself!’
His eyes shone in white contrast to his brown weathered face as he strained to see into the gloom. He looked towards the tree beside him; his thought now to climb it and so give him a vantage point and possible refuge.
The glance saved him.
He saw the cub first. Seconds later, its enraged mother exploded from the bushes beside the tree. The fleeting warning ensured he was able to avoid most of its approaching bulk as he instinctively moved aside to take a glancing blow to his shoulder.
The impact sent him crashing to his knees. His bow had gone but he did not waste time trying to recover it—experience had taught him that speed was essential in these matters. Instead, he regained his feet, retrieved his sword, then faced the brown bear.
As he considered his chances, Dominic knew he was in trouble. Even a younger man, rested and eager for conflict, would have trouble dispatching the creature which now lumbered towards him. He heard the alarming crunch of forest litter beneath its broad pads as it bore down on him once again. As before, Dominic managed to avoid it, due more to his stumble than deliberate avoidance, but the bear had passed so near that Dominic had smelled its stinking breath as it passed him by. It turned, hunched and quivering as if ready to strike again, this time giving the woodsman time to study it in detail.
As it crouched he judged it to be nine feet from snout to tail. It sized him up; its immense, slab-like muscles rippling under its shaggy hide as it trembled its vigour. A boar in the undergrowth, alerted by the disturbance, ran into the woods in a slippery, zigzagging panic. Ignoring the distraction, Dominic kept his eyes fixed on the bear. There was now a hint of caution in its inscrutable eyes as it observed a creature which had managed to avoid two of its lunges.
Dominic sensed the bear’s hesitancy and reflected on his chances. Maybe the animal was old. Maybe its best days were long gone. Yet he knew it was still lethal. He could not let complacency creep in now. Without warning, it bounded towards him again. This time though he was ready for it, and so able to roll aside with a practiced dexterity. As he regained his feet, he stabbed at its passing flank. The bear was untroubled by the jab.
He cursed silently as it approached him again. He knew its weight alone would be enough to crush him, should he fail to avoid another of its charges. However, it was to change its approach and this suited Dominic. Now it approached him slowly, swaying its head from side to side in a threatening display. Suddenly it struck out with a massive talon-clad claw. He met the lunge with his sword, piercing its thick forearm.
His experience in combat had taught him to take advantage of any moment, no matter how fleeting, afforded him by an enemy. Now was such a time as the creature paused for a heartbeat to run its flickering gaze over its injury. Hoping he could intimidate the bear into a retreat, he shuffled nearer to it, but this was his mistake. Incensed, the bear struck again with an horny claw—the swipe renting through the fabric of his jerkin to leave four crimson lines. These quickly expanded in thickness to leave one bloody band. The force of the attack had spun Dominic, but he ran from the creature’s reach, head bowing towards the floor as he pumped his short legs to arrest his fall. He turned to face the bear, but it had not charged. Instead it moved slowly but purposely towards him, its dexterous lower lip dripping saliva.
Dominic knew he had been within a finger’s width of disembowelment. He sensed that the thick fabric of his tunic had saved him. Vain in nature, he would have time enough later to mourn the ruination of a garment which had cost him five beaver pelts. His thoughts raced.
Go away you hairy shit; you must have better things to do.
You don’t want my stringy old meat.
His musings soon turned into a shout. ‘Take your cub grizzled one, I’ve no interest in it, go! GO!’
Waving his arms above his head to make himself big, he continued to shout and growl at the bear. In response, it raised itself upon its hind legs so that it now towered above him, its enormous bulk fading out much of the light.
It seemed invincible, but suddenly became disinterested in him. Content that its display of dominance was sufficient; it dropped back to its paws, turned casually, then trotted into the thicket beside the tree. Its cub followed.
Dominic’s ordeal was over as suddenly as it had begun. He slumped back, exhausted and panting—his eyes on the bush where the bear had left. When his breath returned, he picked up his bow, pushed his wolf hat to a rakish angle, then continued on his way.
Two days passed without further incident until in the early afternoon he came to the river. It was a landmark for him, marking what he guessed was the two-thirds point of his journey, and it gave him supreme satisfaction to see its calm, green waters swirl towards him. Up river, his route seemed benign. Knee-high grass carpeted the narrow flood plain beside the water and grew in an undulating swathe from the water's edge to the encroaching forest. Across the river, the trees grew thickly up to the banking; and Dominic was happy to be knee-high in the grass, rather than in the thick scrub opposite. He filled his hat with water from the river and dumped it upon his hot head. The water’s relieving coolness was invigorating, and he shivered with pleasure as the droplets wormed their way down his back.
He scratched at his shallow abdominal wounds and began to walk alongside the river. He met little resistance from the loose grass and for the rest of an uneventful day made good progress towards his goal. That night, his camp was comfortable beside a low fire. Sleep soon came to him.
Yet as a traveller of many experiences, he was never far from wakefulness. Three hours of sleep had passed for him when a faint splashing in the otherwise quiet river had him awake and onto his feet in a moment. Again, the splashing, and Dominic’s senses prickled. After walking knee-deep into the water, he nocked an arrow into his bowstring and peered into the darkness. The scene became clearer as smoky shifting clouds blew clear of the moon. A group of deft shadows were visible on the far banking of the river.
His bowstring sang as he sent an arrow at the smallest of the shapes. The fawn fell, quickly killed, as the others swiftly faded into the deeper shadow of the wood. He ran splashing through the water and skilfully and quickly butchered the fawn where it lay. He returned across the river to his overnight camp; his immediate need for sustenance now taken care of.
When morning came, the woods across the river appeared unvisited. He cooked and breakfasted on a portion of the deer. What remained, he left for the scavengers of the forest; happy that they would benefit from his kill. After staring long and hard across the river, he gathered his possessions and continued on his way.
Another two days passed without event.
He smelled the marshes half a day before he came to them. Littered now with huge boulders, his route proved more troublesome than before, and soon Dominic was soaking, both from the perspiration of his efforts and from the humidity that seemed to increase the nearer he got to the swampland.
The evening was casting a dusky pink glow when he at last got his first sighting of the marshes. Astounded, Dominic realised, not for the first time in his life, why he had chosen the existence of a wanderer. Before him was a vast, grey-pink expanse of shallow water. Stretching as far as his eye could see, dragonflies skimmed its surface, while toads and coots croaked and screeched their songs into the gloaming. An enormous oasis within the confines of the gloomy forest, it offered light and openness. Yet Alder trees had still managed to puncture it, and these reared from the marsh at intervals, stretching fa
into the distance.
He decided to rest at the marsh edge that night, not wishing to chance a passage through the moonlight. He knew he needed be extra vigilant yet he could not help feeling enchanted with his surroundings. Eventually, though, he fell into a light slumber as he succumbed to the toils of the day.
He woke early; his brief disorientation causing him to jump with sword in hand. His head swam as he again took in the swamp, this time cool and misty as the day awakened.
He picked out a likely route and began to splash knee-deep through chilly water, keeping well away from the many swirling currents that warned of deep turbulence. Complicated but unconstrained, his passage proved benign due to low water after a dry summer. Whilst sapping his energy, the many dead trees he clambered over also served him as resting platforms proud of the water.