could not. It made no difference to Ban. The beloved hound was dead and those who did it were to be cursed for generations.
Gunovic came closer to the fire. ‘It may be they were cursed as you say,’ he said. ‘Julius Caesar died alone, slain by his own countrymen, and none of his line has ever been heard of since. The traitor Mandubracios died childless and it is a descendant of Cassivellaunos who now rules the Trinovantes as well as the Catuvellauni.’
‘Who?’ Ban had moved from sobs to hiccoughs and had difficulty making long sentences. ‘How does he rule his enemy’s people?’
‘His name is Cunobelin, which means “Hound of the Sun”. He rules two tribes because he is a very clever man who loves power, and he commands more spears than any other so that none dare stand against him.’
‘His sons will do so,’ said the elder grandmother, sourly. She alone did not show signs of weeping. ‘At least the firebrand, if not the others.’
Ban’s eyes were wide. ‘Who is the firebrand?’
Gunovic said, ‘Caradoc, third and youngest son of Cunobelin. The Sun Hound has spread his seed wide and with a purpose. Togodubnos is the first son, born to a woman of the royal line of the Trinovantes. He ensures his father’s line amongst that people. He is a giant. for his age, with black hair and a hooked nose. He has not yet killed in battle but he earned his warrior’s tests in good faith. He is a good diplomat. He would make a fine leader did his father permit it. The second son, Amminios - he is a redhead, pale, with sallow skin and eyes that water - is out of a highborn Gaulish woman. He has been reared half in Gaul and has become so Roman that he wears the toga when he eats and plucks the hairs from his nostrils twice every month to make himself pretty - it’s true…’ His voice rose high in indignation at the raised brows and mocking smiles around him. ‘You may mock, but Amminios has his father’s blessing and spends his days drinking wine with the magistrates in Gaul. He already has three horse farms and trading rights in wine and glass and fine tableware and is amassing his own private fortune.’
‘And slaves.’ The elder grandmother spat on the fire. ‘That one makes his fortune trading in slaves. His wealth is in blood, as is his father’s.’
‘Indeed, it may be so.’ Gunovic nodded, slowly. ‘Caradoc, however, is of different stock. He is exceptional. If you are in battle, this is the warrior you want at your side. His mother is war leader of the Ordovices and they, as you know, are second only to the Silures in the courage and strength of their warriors.’
His eyes were on Eburovic, whose distant ancestors were of the Silures. Eburovic stretched his arms and moved his feet to the fire. ‘That’s a lie,’ he said pleasantly, ‘and you know it.’
Gunovic grinned. The Eceni smith was his closest friend. What is life if you cannot taunt a friend a little? The others grinned with him, feeling the tension die.
Eburovic moved so the fire lit his face. ‘You should tell the truth if you would be a singer, smith. The Silures are good warriors, some of us may even be heroes, but the Ordovices are exceptional. It is said that they are born with the battle fever in their eyes and that it never passes from them. Those who fight against them ride out expecting to die. Most of them do so.’
Gunovic inclined his head. ‘It may be so. I bow to your greater experience. Certainly the mother of Caradoc is a warrior of known prowess. Her name is Ellin nic Conia.’ His voice lapsed again into the cadence saved for the tales of heroes. ‘She is tall and very beautiful, with hair the colour of corn before harvest and greengrey eyes that take on all the shades of the sea. She wears a tunic the colour of her eyes and is known across the land for her valour in battle. Her horses are the finest of those bred in the west, her sword cuts the hardest, her spear flies the furthest, or at least’ - his