Guardians at the Wall
By Tim Walker
Publication Date: 1st June 2021
Publisher: Independently published
Page Length: 310 Pages
Genre: Historical dual timeline (Contemporary/Roman)
Archaeology student Noah scrapes the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes, in the hope of uncovering an ancient artefact around which he can build a project-defining story.
He makes an intriguing find, but hasn't anticipated the distraction of becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He’s living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding 2,000-year-old riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.
In the same place, almost 2,000 years earlier, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen.
These are the protagonists whose lives will brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one commencing his journey and trying to get noticed, the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.
How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology mud rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by the attentions of two very different women, navigate his way to a winning presentation?
Find out in Tim Walker's thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.
Extract 4 – Let the exploratory excavation commence!
[From the POV of student archaeologist, Noah Jessop]
The following Saturday, we were in the car park loading Mike Stone’s Land Rover with shovels, hessian sacks, sample bags, trowels, sieves, a metal detector and a ground-penetrating radar device that Richard had signed out for the weekend. I had identified the current owner of the farmhouse, Mrs Betty Hardcastle, a retired widow, and I’d spoken to her on the phone, introducing myself as an archaeology student who was interested in identifying sites of old Roman graveyards.
It had piqued her interest when I said I had a hunch that there might be a family graveyard plot in the corner of her house enclosure. She’d replied that she was a member of the Corbridge History Society, and was interested in the prospect of finding historical remains on her land. I had played it down, saying that I would like to come over one Saturday with a couple of friends to have a look around. She had agreed, and proposed that we come over right away, on the forthcoming Saturday.
“What did Professor Wilde say to you, Richard?” Dave asked, placing a cool box of sandwiches and drinks in the back.
Richard carefully stored the last of the equipment in and shut the rear door. “She gave me a copy of the trust’s dig rules and told me not to disturb or remove any artefacts we may uncover. We’re only to photograph and record them, then come back and fetch Mike Stone.”
I groaned at the thought of having to stop if we found anything of interest. I held the passenger door open for Dave. Only three could squeeze into the cab, so Russ had agreed to stay behind.
“Well, I guess she could take the credit if we found anything,” Dave said as he wedged himself in the centre seat by the gear stick.
The drive time to Hardcastle Farm was only thirty minutes, and the electric gate opened for us after I waved at a CCTV camera. We rattled across a cattle grid onto the one-hundred-yard straight drive to the manor house, passing two dozen shaggy-coated Highland cattle and as many sheep chewing the thick, coarse moorland grass. Away to our left I saw the boundary fence and the buildings of the Corbridge Museum between trees, owned by the English Heritage Trust.
“To think that Gaius must have been so near and yet somehow thwarted from reaching Coria,” I said as we waited for a second set of electric gates to swing open. Our approach had been tracked on a moving CCTV camera. The main house, front garden, barn and outhouses were all enclosed by an electric fence.
Richard parked next to a newer, but similar, Land Rover on the gravel driveway. “Let’s hope this is the right place.”
We got out to the barks of two large smooth-coated hounds with floppy ears, and the approach of our host, a stout, grey-haired woman in cream Aran jumper and corduroy trousers tucked into green gumboots. It was practically a uniform around here, and we were similarly attired.
“Good morning and welcome to Hardcastle Farm,” she said.
“Hi, Mrs Hardcastle.” I held out my hand. “I’m Noah. Thanks for inviting us to have a look around.”
“Not at all, and please call me Betty.” She gave me a firm hand shake. I could see from her ruddy cheeks and frame that she was an outdoors person, no doubt a keen hiker and dog walker on the Northumberland hills that rose from the river valley in which her property sat. “I’m so pleased you called. I’ll take you to the overgrown corner which I think would be a good place to start. There’s a pile of stones that may have been used as grave markers. I’ve put a couple of rakes over there. If you wouldn’t mind clearing away the leaf mulch and twigs for me and tidying up, I’d be grateful.”
She led the way across an expanse of mown lawn towards the corner of the enclosed area, past a stone border and hedgerow that marked the edge of the garden, and onto a rough track that led into an area of low-hanging trees and bushes. There was a disused wooden shed with a partially collapsed roof, then a secluded area with lumps of coarse grass where no trees grew, only a few bushes.
“This looks promising,” I said.
“Yes, I’ve often wondered if this was an old graveyard. The nettles and brambles run riot, so it’s a magnet for butterflies. You can rip up the bushes and slash back the grass, but leave the trees that border this area, please,” Betty replied. The area covered roughly forty square yards.
[In the Roman fortified town of Coria in the year 180 CE, Centurion Atticianus gives his report to Tribune Bebius]
Gaius silently rehearsed the report he knew he would soon be giving, then composed himself as the voices of officers entering the commander’s office filtered through the thin door.
“Ah, Centurion Atticianus, come forward and meet your fellow officers,” Tribune Flavius Lucius Bebius said in a welcoming tone, his composure fully recovered.
“Yes, sir!” Gaius replied, standing to attention. “I am Gaius Vitellius Atticianus, Centurion of Horses of the Fourth Century, Fourth Cohort, Sixth Legion, Victrix Pia Fidelis. I was sent here by Tribune Helvius Pertinax from Vindolanda which is under attack from a large force of barbarians these past two days.”
He paused as the officers gasped. With late arrivals, there were now two prefects and twelve centurions in the room, including Lupus, whom Gaius had recently escorted from Habitancum Fort to the Wall. He nodded to the Senior Centurion whom he knew, Julius Flavius or ‘First Spear’, who was above all centurions.
“It is necessary that you speak slowly, so that my clerk can record the detail of your report,” Tribune Bebius said. Gaius glanced over his shoulder at the clerk sitting at a small table in the corner of the room, stylus hovering over a wax tablet.
“Certainly, sir. But before I continue, may I ask, what action was taken upon hearing the report by Centurion Lupus Viridio of the fourth cohort? He had witnessed the gathering of the Caledonii tribes at the dun of the Selgovae king.”
A look of anger flashed across the tribune’s face. After glaring at Gaius for his impudence, he looked at the huge man in polished, gilded armour standing before him. “Well, First Spear, did you receive a report from this centurion of a gathering of the tribes?”
“I… did, Your Excellency, but you were otherwise detained at the time, and so I thought it could wait until our weekly briefing, scheduled for tomorrow, sir.”
“Fool! Do you not recognise an important piece of intelligence when you hear it?” The tribune’s cheeks turned puce again, this time with rage. “You could learn much from Centurion Atticianus here, who practically battered down my door to give me his report of hostiles approaching…” He checked himself, and his storm blew over as quickly as it had started, and he continued in a calm manner. “Right, put the entire garrison on full alert and send out your cavalry on patrols. Is there anything else we should know, Centurion Atticianus?”
Gaius cleared his throat and replied, “We were forced off the road at the estate of Magistrate Lucius Gabia…”
Tribune Bebius chuckled, cutting him short. “Ah, Fortuna guided you there. He is a friend of mine and I know his estate is built like a fortress. He convinced himself that one day barbarians would attack… and now they have. He is away in Eboracum at the courts. The walls are high and he even had corner towers built.”
“Yes, Fortuna be praised, sir. We made use of the walls and towers. And with the help of his estate workers, managed to keep the savages at bay long enough to bury our payroll chest and standard, before making a staggered retreat via the river path.”
“You did well, Centurion. My compliments to you for your wise actions in what must have been a grim situation. Remain behind and give the location details to my clerk. They must be recovered after we see off the barbarians.”
Gaius spun on his heels and marched out, followed by the scurrying clerk clutching half a dozen tablets to his chest. Gaius could see soldiers and civilians rushing about through the windows, and knew that meant the warband had been spotted.
The clerk sat and looked up, expectantly.
“We buried a chest of coins and the fourth cohort standard at the estate of Magistratus Lucius Gabia, in a grave marked with a stone in the name, Domina Drusilla Gabia,” he enunciated in a slow, deliberate manner, watching the bird’s nest on top of the clerk’s head wobble as he made deep and deliberate indents in the soft wax. “Those are the salient facts. And now, I take my leave.”
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Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After studying for a degree in Communication studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009.
His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of a former Roman town. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.
The last book in the series, Arthur, Rex Brittonum, was published in June 2020. This is a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum. Both titles are Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.
Tim has also written three books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), Postcards from London (2017) and Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx