Sunday, September 16, 2012

Roman Britain: The Unfurling of The Banner #7

From Hadrian’s Wall to Glastonbury Tor
Roman Britain: The Unfurling of The Banner #7
By: Donna Fletcher Crow

Britannia, the furthest-flung spot on the map of the mighty Roman Empire; the last kingdom to be conquered; the first to be abandoned. And yet, the Roman Eagles marched the length and breadth of the land for 500 years, bringing order, engineering and trade to the Celtic tribes who accepted Roman rule with varying degrees of  compliance.

            Marcellus surveyed the great stone and earthwork wall rising twelve feet above his head. The world called it Hadrian’s Wall, but Marcellus thought of it as his wall.

            For three years now he had been chief engineer at Vercovicium, in charge of the continual refortifications and repairs necessitated by this foul wet climate and the even more foul, more vicious Picti and their eternal raiding parties. But this morning, it was neither the elements nor the savage Picti that worried Marcellus.

            It was Prefect Festus, engineer-in-charge from Coristopinum, the one person in the entire eighty Roman miles of the wall to whom Marcellus was answerable in matters of wall construction. All others answered to Marcellus.

            Certainly no one could fault Festus on his engineering skills nor on his diligence in the line of duty. His ability to build bridges of stone was faultless. Since Marcellus prided himself on possessing equal skills, applied with equal attention to detail and duty, and since in his five years of following the eagle he had tended to neglect any people-reaching skills he might possess, the relationship between the two men had never been comfortable. Indeed, their exchanges often stung as much as the quicklime which held the massive stones of the wall in place. But in all his years of suffering under Festus’s bouts of nitpicking inspection, Marcellus had never had to bear such an outrage.

            The courier had arrived a few moments after cockcrow sounded and accosted Marcellus in his barracks with a salute that was sloppy if not insolent. Marcellus could still feel the parchment crinkle in his hand as he crushed the message in anger. “No reply. Dismissed.” He turned on his heel even before the messenger could retreat.

And so, Marcellus Artois, founder of the family Artoii in Britannia, is accused of treason and sent to a posting in the southwest of the land to stand trial. Thus begins the saga of the Romano-British family who lived in the region of Inys Witrin which later ages came to call Glastonbury. Aaron and Julius, among Britain’s first martyrs, Saint George, Saint Patrick— all touched this island of mystery, this Holy Avalon and interacted with the lives of the Artoii.

The armies of the mighty Roman Empire marched, religions flourished and faded, but on the mist-shrouded Inys Witrin prayers continued as holy men and women gathered around the tiny church built by Joseph of Arimathea, he who first brought The Holy Grail to Glastonbury.

Until finally the family Artois lent their heritage to the greatest of their line, he whom the bards called Arthurius— King Arthur.

Two millennia of history and legend intertwine around Glastonbury’s broken arches.  And through it all— through ages ancient and modern— the faithful have sought to answer the same question that Arthur asked:  Where is the Holy Grail?

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. Besides the award-winning Glastonbury, Donna is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave  and A Darkly Hidden Truth, as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries.

Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To read more about all of Donna’s books  and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:

Twitter: @DonnaFletchCr

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