The Celtic people had realised with Vercingetorix’s victory that they would need to unite under a single leader. Iomara, centuries later, lead a confederation of tribes, each chief ruled their own area autonomously, but paid taxes and gave warriors to support Iomarra’s army and administration. The druids too contributed representatives to the Iomaran government, a government of consensus except in matters of security, in which Iomara truly was queen. This system of government was birthed by Vercingetorix and continuously refined. It gave the Gauls the ability to defend themselves against the Roman Empire.
The council chamber was a single roomed building, a stone rotunda placed on top of a small hill and surrounded by luscious, green fields. The chamber housed the council table and chairs and enough room for two or three people to pace in. Wooden shutters could be drawn closed or opened depending on the season. Today was a warm summer’s day, so the shutters were open letting in the day, the warmth and an easy light. Around the rotunda stood the queen’s personal guards. The room itself was reserved solely for the privy council.
Each person here was either a druid or a prince and a warrior, whether male or female. They came as equals, with Queen Iomara being first among them. The room turned expectantly towards Donnchadh. Donnchadh had called this special meeting to discuss recent events. Even the queen had heard the whispers.
Donnchadh stared at the table in front of him – wooden and at first glance unornamented. If one looked more closely a subtle and exquisite carving that told tales of their people and their gods could be seen. History could be read at this table, history and an affirmation of the people. Around the table the queen’s advisors, her privy council, sat silently, waiting for Donnchadh to speak. The usual jollity had given way to whispers of an awful purpose.
Donnchadh stood up from his chair and faced the queen. He was wearing simple clothes, the common folk dressed more brightly than him. Queen Iomara had ordered that her privy council dress this way. They were servants to her and to her people she had insisted. It made Donnchadh feel anonymous, and often unimportant. He was tall, with rippling muscles under clear, almost translucent skin. His thick hair was pulled back from his forehead and braided and had obviously been recently bleached. Except for a broad moustache, which too had been bleached, he was clean shaven. Donnchadh knew that Queen Iomara could see the bead of sweat upon his brow. He wanted to wring his hands, but resisted the urge. This was a truth that had to be told and he didn’t want fear to get in the way.
As Donnchadh went to speak he remembered the rumours of Iomara. “The Queen had a man skinned alive”. “She can’t feel pain.” “She has a wand that strikes a man dead.” They were the whispers in the streets. Donnchadh had never witnessed any of this, but he dared not put them aside. He wondered how she’d take this news.
Iomara with wasit length golden hair was also dressed in brown, like the table had been carved, a very careful, detailed stitching that had taken the embroiderers months of dedicated artistry paneled her clothes. On one side were images of the celtic war gods, Andarta, Agrona and Andraste and on the other the protective goddesses, Damara, Erecura and Sirona; success in war contrasted with fertility and the well being of the land and people, brown stitching upon brown fabric to be revealed by a careful eye.
Donnchadh clenched his fists to sure himself, he straightened up and composed himself once more. This isn’t about me, he thought. Matrona, divine mother goddess , protect me. Matrona protect us all.
“The kingdom is under danger of attack from the South,” started Donnchadh.
The silent chamber turned to face Iomara, her hair golden and waist length. Iomara was expressionless. She turned towards her spymaster, Bran, for a look, a sign. Bran, looked to Donnchadh.
“How do you know?” she asked in her harsh voice and returning her gaze to Donnchadh.
Donnchadh responded. “First we heard rumours, then Bran’s spies saw battalions gathering only miles from our borders.”
“Is this troublesome? Perhaps they fear us attacking them? Perhaps they fear me?”
Bran as his ancestors before had spread rumours through the nearby kingdoms of Iomara’s witchcraft, rumours of human sacrifice and rumours of an evil people. Generation after generation of queen held the same name so that people, especially foreigners were lead to believe that Iomara was the same person. It created an awe of the land and it’s people. Night time ceremonies were often held with ghaulish cries sounding out from the forests across the valleys. Foreigners were afraid to come and those that did left in a hurry.
“We are a lone kingdom, the religion of the Southerners and Easterners acts to resist our rumours and now new alliances are needed. Word is that they fear us, but not enough.”
Iomara was cool as she responded. “And how do you propose we form such alliances? We are a simple people and no spare lands to offer. They already buy all of our wine.”
“Marriage, your majesty, is the most obvious way.”
Iomara pounded the table and stood facing Donnchadh squarely. She had a harsh voice, and now it was almost furious. “You know I will not marry. I cannot marry.”
“Then perhaps the people should adopt Christianity, your majesty?” Donnchadh was nervous. Perhaps I am pushing things too far, he thought, but something must be done.
“Our simple religion serves our people well. Christianity ruins a people. It turns them into fanatics. It creates wanting and desires and the urge to conquer other nations, raping and looting where marauding armies go.” Iomara was strong in her beliefs. Bran nodded in agreement.
“This pope, I have heard, is not a religious man but a manipulator. Is that true, Bran?”
“It is true,” answered Bran.
Donnchadh felt in an impossible situation. “Then what does our queen propose?” Donnchadh asked.
“Go and talk to these Christian’s high priest and see what we can arrange with him.”
“We have nothing to bargain with. What can I possibly offer?”
“Nothing, just begin the discussion. Let him know that we are willingly to talk. Hopefully that will buy us time.”
“Bran knows the foreigners far better than me. Perhaps he should go, dear Queen.”
“You are my first in council, Donnchadh. You understand my purposes and goals better than anyone here. Is everyone here in agreement?”
The room nodded as one.