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Diana L Paxson (1943 - )

White Mare, Red Stallion
Berkley, 1986


plot: Two Scottish tribes fight each other and the Romans near the Wall caveats: some (brief) sex scenes, violence The white mare is Roud, ridden by Maira, the heroine, a member of the Novantae clan which lived north and west of Luguvalium (modern Carlisle). The red stallion is important in a druidic ritual when Maira becomes the leader of her tribe. Her clan, the Vindomarci, is called the White Horse Clan. The ancient Celts prized and venerated horses. The date is 196 A.D. and Septimius Severus is the emperor, with Claudius Albinus, the former governor of Britain, his proclaimed heir. The main story revolves around a love-hate relationship between the leaders of two warring Scottish clans, the Novantae and Selgovae. Maira becomes leader of the Novantae when her father Conmor is killed--and her brother badly wounded-- by Selgovae raiders from Din Carn. Unfortunately Maira has already fallen in love with Carric, son of the Selgovae chief, at the Lughnasa festival. The situation soon escalates. Some Novantae warriors go on a foolish raid against the Selgovae and Maira must avenge their deaths. Although she distrusts Romans, she decides to ally herself with them temporarily, to capture Din Carn. Carric's father dies and Carric now leads the Selgovae. Much of the "Roman" part of the novel occurs in one chapter when Maira enters Luguvalium (modern Carlisle) to seek help from Lucius Ostorius Rufus, the commander of the Wall troops. She learns about the political situation at Rome after the death of Commodus, the struggles between Septimius Severus and other generals to seize supreme power at Rome. Ostorius is a mix of British/Celtic and Roman stock. He approves Maira's rebuilding of a former Roman fort to protect her people from the Selgovae; he offers food and animals to replace what Carric's raiders have stolen to help her clan survive the winter. She dines with Tiberius Flavius Pintamus, a Roman decurion, who promises secret help against the Selgovae. Pintamus talks about his motives for joining the army (status, citizenship, land). They make love, though she hates herself for doing so. A few weeks later, Maira's forces and a squad of 50 Romans meet and head for Din Carn. On the journey, Pintamus points out a former Roman fort, tells her which troops lived there, and shows her the foundations of the hospital and the shrine. Maira becomes sick and, while resting in the forest, overhears two Roman soldiers making fun of her, her people, and boasting how the Romans will use this raid to further their own aims, by keeping the tribes at each other's throats ( divide and conquer). Maira is able to warn Carric's people in time and the two tribes turn on the "red crests." Carric and Maira reconcile, marry, and live to fight the Romans in the future, one expects. The Romans in this novel are peripheral to the conflicts between the two tribes. In addition, they are portrayed as either wimps or villains. For example, when Maira first enters Luguvalium, she notices the straight lines as the Romans impose order on the land; her people live in round houses and build their forts in circles. The Romans are not as hardy as the northern clans; Maira is used to bathing in cold mountain streams, but she does enjoy her first bath, Roman-style. She notices that rooms at army headquarters are warm even though it is only mid-October and it is "hardly cold at all," to her. The villainous Pintamus and his commander use trickery to keep the clans fighting each other. They despise the "barbarians" and look forward to killing them. There is a map of the area at the beginning of the novel. The author has visited several of the sites described in this novel. Paxson supplies background notes at the end of the novel: land, people, folklore, history, and her sources. This novel is good for the reader who is interested in peoples north of the Wall. -Roz Harper 9/99

- Roz Harper, 9/1/1999

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