Excerpt from Barbarian Prize

It was hot, far hotter than usual for late June, the month named for the goddess Juno, and the sun hung like a glittering ball of pure gold in the cloudless blue sky. Not even the hint of a breeze rippled the glassy green surface of the sea as the Roman warship, a liburnian with a high curving prow, glided forward propelled by two dozen oars either side of the vessel. Each oar was manned by two wide chested slaves, with hugely muscled arms. On days such as this, when there was no wind to fill the sails of the liburnian, they would be forced to row for hours and hours, each oarstroke controlled by the relentless beat of the drum.

As soon as the helmsman saw the island of Prochyta on the starboard bow, he leaned hard on the huge oar at the rear, which served as a rudder. The boards of the vessel creaked as it slowly changed direction, rounding the headland into the Bay of Neapolis. The liburnian was not heading for the harbour at Misenum, the headquarters of the western imperial fleet where at least forty huge tiremes were moored, but for a city further across the bay. Captain Cornelius was under orders from Governor Agricola to convey the captives in the hold to Pompeii.

Deep in the bowls of the vessel Sirona stirred restlessly as the steady drumbeat coming from the oardeck above changed pace. ‘The vessel is slowing,’ she whispered to Taranis, who lay beside her. ‘Do you think we are pulling into port again?’

‘There could be many reasons why it slows,’ he said. ‘Perhaps we are heading into more treacherous waters,’ he added, pulling her closer to him; the chains that held him clanking as he moved his arms. ‘Do not be concerned, my love.’

She tried not to be frightened but she didn’t find it easy to be as brave and steadfast as Taranis. They had no idea of their destination or what the future held for them. Most likely they faced either death or slavery; the Roman’s were quick to punish those who dared to rise against them. When the Roman General Agricola and his legions had marched into northern Brittania, Sirona’s father Borus had led an army, made up of a number of different northern tribes, against the invaders. They’d fought long and hard against superior forces, yet despite all their prayers and sacrifices the Gods had been far from kind. She along with Borus, his second-in-command Taranis and many of their men had been captured.

At the express order of Emperor Vespasian, her father and most of the other prisoners had been taken from the vessel at Ostia. They were to be paraded in chains through the streets of Rome before being sent to their execution.

Sirona had no idea why she, Taranis and a few others had been spared for a time and left on board this vessel. ‘I just thank the goddess Andrasta that she answered my prayers and allowed me to be with you, at least for a short while longer,’ she said to Taranis.

During the long overland march south Sirona, the only female captive, had been kept apart from the other prisoners. When they’d boarded the military liburnian at the port of Narbo in Southern Gaul she’d been confined alone in a small aft cabin.

Three days ago extra passengers had come aboard, a corpulent Roman General and his wife, and she’d been moved to the hold, but she had not been chained like the other prisoners. The few Roman females she’d know in Brittania were weak and submissive creatures, compelled to obey their fathers or their husbands at all times, so the captain must have thought that leaving her unfettered posed no threat to the safety of this vessel. He clearly did not know that Celtic women were also warriors, even so she cursed her weakness as no matter how hard she tried she could find no way to free Taranis and the other prisoners from their manacles.

She caressed her lover’s muscular chest. The heat in the dark hold was oppressive and his skin was slick with perspiration. The air around them was thick with the foul odours of stale sweat and excrement; yet she could still detect the familiar musky masculine scent of his body as she ran her hands over the grubby fabric of his loincloth. Beneath the thin layer of linen she felt his cock stir.

The coarsely woven tunic her captors had given her to wear stuck to her hot flesh and the rough boards of the floor of the hold dug into her hip, but none of this mattered, all she could feel was her rising desire for Taranis. He was a renowned warrior and military strategist whom Borus respected enough to make his second-in-command even though Taranis came from Gaul and not Brittania. The first time she’d laid eyes on him she’d thought him the most amazingly attractive man she had ever seen. He was tall, at least a head taller than her fellow Icene. Most of his life he had been a mercenary, fighting against the Romans in far flung lands. His skin had been darkened by the sun to a deep golden brown. His hair was the colour of ripe wheat, his eyes as blue as the clear skies of summer and he was amazingly handsome with features more pleasing than those of any Roman nobleman.

She felt the hard contours of his belly tremble as she brushed her fingers across his hot, damp skin. Taranis gave a muffled moan as she leaned forward and traced the outline of his nipples with the tip of her tongue. The salty taste of his perspiration sharpened her desire for him. She pulled one of his nipples between her lips and sucked on it gently.

His muscles tensed, those on his arms cording, as he pulled her half across his body. ‘I want you,’ Taranis said softly as a prisoner a few feet away coughed noisily, his chains clanking as he tried to move into a more comfortably position.

‘Are you never satisfied,’ she teased, over the last three days having learnt to virtually ignore the presence of the other prisoners and concentrate only on this brief bitter-sweet reunion with her lover.

Taranis meshed his fingers in her tangled hair as he kissed Sirona, his tongue tenderly seeking hers. The hot wetness of his mouth increased her desire, and the sensitive place between her thighs grew warm and moist. He continued to kiss her while he cupped her left breast with one large hand, kneading it sensuously through the rough linen of her tunic. Sirona closed her eyes for a brief moment, shutting out the stifling gloom of the hold as she imagined that they were lying on the soft green grass of her woodland home – the warm summer breeze grazing their hot flesh and gently rustling the leaves of the trees surrounding the clearing. She could almost smell the sweet scent of wild flowers and the heady odour of the crushed grass beneath them.

His mouth still locked upon hers, Taranis rubbed her nipple and the rough fabric chafed the sensitive tip, making her moan with pleasure. She pressed her fingers demandingly against his belly, then slid them beneath his loincloth. His cock was already stiffening, but it grew thicker and longer as she stroked it. Curving her fingers around its meaty bulk, she massaged it gently until it grew iron hard and even thicker that the handle of the huge sword he so ably wielded in battle.

‘Slowly,’ he begged. ‘Every touch of your fingertips sends me wilder than the god Balor in the thick of battle.’

Not too slowly,’ she said as she pulled off her filthy tunic. Now that she was naked she wanted him naked also, her hot skin pressed close to his.