Curse of the Celts, стр. 1

Curse of the CeltsThe Once and Future Queen

Clara O’Connor

One More Chapter

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First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2021

Copyright © Clara O’Connor 2021

Cover design by Andrew Davis © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2021

Cover images © Shutterstock.com

Map © Laura Hall

Clara O’Connor asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

Source ISBN: 9780008407698

Ebook Edition © March 2021 ISBN: 9780008407681

Version: 2020-12-14

Contents

Part I

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Part II

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Part III

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Acknowledgments

Author Q & A

Exploring the World of The Once and Future Queen

Recipe: Griddle Cakes aka Welsh Cakes aka Pice ar y maen

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About the Author

Books by Clara O’Connor

One More Chapter...

About the Publisher

The final touches of this book were done in the strange summer and autumn of 2020, when the gift of family and friends has never been more precious.

Thank you for being there (near and far).

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Part One Through The Blast

It was a winter evening,

The snow was falling fast.

There was a little travelling wanderer,

Came trotting through the blast.

It had no covering on its head,

No cloak to keep it warm.

I ran to meet it on its way,

And save it from the storm.

— The Little Wanderer, Esther “Hetty” Saunders

Chapter One

Londinium, Imperial Province of Britannia

In the reign of Caesar Magnus XVII

“You are accused of crimes against the Code. How do you plead?”

The hood covering my face prevented me from seeing but I knew where I was. Underfoot was sand. The praetor’s voice boomed out, silencing the roar of the crowd. We had been caught. Did I stand alone?

My thoughts were racing as my heart pounded. Was I here on the sands by myself? I was fully conscious of everything I had done, fearful of the punishment that would be meted out to me, but not sorry. Not regretful. I did not accept any guilt. Nor the right of the mob to judge my actions. I would not kneel.

The crowd’s jeers and cries gained in volume as I remained standing in defiance, a great wave of sound crashing into me. Their fun could only be had if I knelt; my crimes would then be displayed for all the world to see and judge, collected from the cameras and microphones that dotted the city, pieced together and used in evidence against the accused. I was now that accused. Devyn had given me a charmed pendant that he promised would conceal me from the all-pervasive surveillance in the city. I guess now I would find out if it had worked.

Where was Devyn? Was he here? I wasn’t sure. We shared a bond that allowed him to communicate with me as long as he didn’t block it off to conceal what he was feeling. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to sense him here, now. With the handfast cuff on my arm, the range had been reduced to a few feet, so he could be here, caged, awaiting his turn at the other end of the arena, or he could be… My mind balked at the darker possibilities.

I had always believed in the transparency, the righteousness, of our judicial system. I knew now that there was a whole hidden world where the council chose who did and did not appear on the sands, one where people disappeared and left no record behind. I suppose it was harder to disappear an elite. My social visibility at least granted me the appearance of a public trial.

Why hadn’t they started proceedings yet? Typically, by now Praetor Calchas would have moved on to telling the crowd what my crimes were, and I had to admit the list was probably long. Actually, I’m not sure the city had terms for some of the things I’d done in recent months. The crowd hushed in anticipation. My entire body tensed in reaction; this was all very off script. What was going on?

“You are accused of crimes against the Code. How do you plead?”

Was he talking to me again? I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. I looked around despite the mask preventing me from seeing, waiting for some indication from a guard or someone of what I should do. I couldn’t breathe. I swayed. I bumped into a shoulder. A guard standing so close? No, another accused taking their place beside me; that was who Praetor Calchas was addressing.

A hand brushed tentatively against mine. Then more surely entwined our fingers together. Marcus. It was Marcus. I still wore the handfast cuff on my upper arm, so Marcus’s presence made me feel better. My emotions over the last months swayed between two boys, like a pendulum swinging between two versions of myself, depending on which piece of metal I wore.

The cuff tied me to my old life, coded to make me long for Marcus, my city-mandated match, and to feel immediately better when he was near. And, as we