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Liberty Paperback – October 1, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

FINGERS CRAMPING AND shoulders aching from having wielded the pitchfork all day, Rhyddes ferch Rudd tossed another load of hay onto the wagon. Sweat trickled down her back, making the lash marks sting. Marks inflicted by her father, Rudd, the day before because eighteen summers of anguish finally had goaded her into speaking her mind.

Mere physical pain couldn't compare with the ache wringing her heart.

Her father despised her.

She slid a glance toward the author of her mood. He stood a few paces away, leaning upon his pitchfork's handle in the loaded wagon's shade to escape the July heat as he conversed with her oldest brother, Eoghan. She couldn't discern their words, but their easy camaraderie spoke volumes her envy didn't want to hear.

Her father's gaze met hers, and he lowered his eyebrows. "Back to work, Rhyddes!" On Rudd's lips, her name sounded like an insult.

In a sense, it was.

Her name in the Celtic tongue meant "freedom," but the horse hitched to the hay wagon enjoyed more freedom than she did. Her tribe, the Votadins, had been conquered by the thieving Romans, who demanded provisions for their troops, fodder for their mounts, women for their beds and coin to fill the purses of every Roman who wasn't a soldier.

And if those conditions weren't bad enough, for all the kindness her father had demonstrated during her first two decades, Rhyddes may as well have been born a slave.

She scooped up more hay. Resentment-fired anger sent wisps flying everywhere, much of it sailing over the wagon rather than landing upon it.

"Hey, mind what you're doing!"

Owen, her closest brother in age and in spirit, emerged from the wagon's far side, hay prickling his hair and tunic like a porcupine. Rhyddes couldn't suppress her laugh. "Tis an improvement. Just wait till the village lasses see you."

"Village lasses, hah!" Sporting a wicked grin, Owen snatched up a golden fistful, flung it at her and dived for her legs.

They landed in the fragrant hay and began vying mightily for the upper hand, cackling like a pair of witless hens. When Owen thought he'd prevailed, Rhyddes twisted and rolled from underneath him. Her fresh welts stung, but she resolved not to let that deter her. He lost his balance and fell backward. She pounced, planting a knee on his chest and pinning his wrists to the ground over his head.

Victory's sweetness lasted but a moment. Fingers dug into her shoulders, and she felt herself hauled to her feet and spun around. Owen's face contorted to chagrin as he scrambled up.

"Didn't get enough of the lash yestermorn, eh, girl?" Rudd, his broad hands clamped around her upper arms, gave her a teeth-rattling shake.

When she didn't respond, he turned his attention upon Owen. "And as for you--"

"Da, please, no!" Rhyddes stopped herself. Well she knew the futility of pleading with Rudd. Still, for Owen's sake, she had to try. Her father's scowl dared her to continue. She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. "Twas not Owen's fault. I--" Sweat freshened the sting on her back, and she winced. "The fault is naught but mine."

Rudd eyed her for an interminable moment. "Aye, that I can well believe." He grasped each sibling by an arm and strode across the hayfield toward the family's lodge. "Owen can watch you take his lashes as well as yours. We'll see if that won't mend his ways." The thin linen of her ankle-length tunic failed to shield her from his fingers, which had to be leaving bruises. Rhyddes gritted her teeth. Rudd seemed disappointed. "I doubt anything in this world or the next will make you mend yours."

"You don't want me to change. You'd lose your excuse to beat me." Sheer impertinence, she knew, but she no longer cared.

"I need no excuses, girl."

The back of his hand collided with her cheek. Pain splintered into a thousand needles across her face. She reeled and dropped to her hands and knees, her hair obscuring her vision in a copper cascade. Hay pricked her palms. Owen would have helped her rise, but their father restrained him. He blistered the ground with his glare, obviously not daring to turn it upon Rudd for fear of earning the same punishment.

Not that Rhyddes could blame him.

Rudd yanked her up, cocked a fist...and froze. "Raiders!" Rhyddes turned. And wished she hadn't. Picts were charging from the north to converge upon their farm, their battle cries growing louder under the merciless afternoon sun. One of the storage buildings had already been set ablaze, its roof thatch marring the sky with thick black smoke.

Rudd shed his shock and sprinted for the living compound, calling his children by name to help him defend their home: Eoghan, Ian, Bloeddwyn, Arden, Dinas, Gwydion, Owen.

Every child except Rhyddes.

Determined not to let that stop her, she ran to the wagon, unhitched the horse, found her pitchfork, scrambled onto the animal's back and kicked him into a jolting canter. The stench of smoke strengthened with each stride. Her mount pinned back his ears and wrestled her for control of the bit, but she bent the frightened horse to her will. She understood how he felt.

As they loped past the cow byre, a Pict leaped at them, knocking Rhyddes from the horse's back. The ground jarred the pitchfork from her grasp. The horse galloped toward the pastures. Frantically, Rhyddes fumbled for her dagger. Although her brothers had taught her how to wield it in a fight, until now she'd used it only to ease dying animals from this world.

But the accursed dagger wouldn't come out of the hilt. Sword aloft, the Pict closed in.

Time distorted, assaulting Rhyddes with her attacker's every detail: the lime-spiked hair, the weird blue symbols smothering face and arms, the wickedly sharp sword, the ebony leather boots and leggings, the breastplate tooled to fit female curves.

Female?

The warrior-woman's sword began its deadly descent. From the corner of her eye Rhyddes saw her pitchfork. Grunting, she rolled toward it, praying desperately to avoid her attacker's blow.

Her left arm stung where the sword grazed it, but she managed to reach her pitchfork and scrambled to her feet, thankful for the shaft's familiar solidity. Unexpected eagerness flooded her veins.

As the Pict freed her weapon from where it had embedded in the ground, Rhyddes aimed the pitchfork and lunged. The tines hooked the warrior-woman's sword, and Rhyddes twisted with all her strength. The Pict yelped as the sword ripped from her hand to go flying over the sty's fence. Squealing urgently, the sow lumbered for cover, trying to wedge her bulk under the trough.

With a savage scream, the warrior-woman whipped out a dagger and charged. Rhyddes reversed the pitchfork and jammed its butt into the Pict's gut, under the breastplate's bottom edge, robbing her of breath. Quickly she reversed it again and caught her under the chin with the pitchfork's tines. As the woman staggered backward, flailing her arms and flashing the red punctures that marred her white neck, Rhyddes struck hard and knocked her down.

The warrior-woman looked heavier by at least two stones, but Rhyddes pinned her chest with her knee, hoping it would suffice. She dropped the pitchfork and grasped her dagger, thankful that it slid free this time. Grabbing a fistful of limed hair, she jerked the woman's head to one side to expose her neck.

The Pict bucked and twisted mightily, trying to break Rhyddes's grip. "Twas not much different than wrestling a fever-mad calf.

Rhyddes's deft slice ended the threat.

Blood spurted from the woman's neck in sickening pulses. Rhyddes stood, panting, her stomach churning with the magnitude of what she'd done. "Twas no suffering animal she'd killed--and it just as easily could have been her lying there, pumping her lifeblood into the mud.

Bile seared her throat, making her gag. Pain lanced her stomach. Bent double, she retched out the remains of her morning meal, spattering the corpse.

After spitting out the last bitter mouthful and wiping her lips with the back of her hand, she drew a deep breath and straightened. As she slowly turned in a full circle, her senses taking in the sights and sounds and stench of the devastation surrounding her, she wished she had not prevailed.

The news only grew worse as she sprinted toward the lodge. Of her seven brothers, the Picts had left Ian and Gwydion dead, her father and Owen wounded, the lodge and three outbuildings torched. She ran a fingertip over the crusted blood of her wound. It was scarcely more than a scratch, and she couldn't suppress a surge of guilt.

Mayhap, she thought through the blinding tears as she ran to help what was left of her family, it would have been better had she died in the Pict's stead.

The surviving raiders were galloping toward the tree line with half the cattle. The remaining stock lay stiffening in the fields, already attracting carrion birds.

Three days later, the disaster attracted scavengers of a wholly different sort.

MARCUS CALPURNIUS AQUILA sprawled on his belly across the linen-draped marble massage table, head pillowed on his crossed arms, shins and feet jutting over the table's edge. As the male slave worked eucalyptus-scented unguent into the aching muscles of Marcus's shoulders, Marcus could feel the tensions of combat seep away.

Too bad the man couldn't work out the knots in Marcus's relationship with his father, Sextus Calpurnius Agricola, governor of Britannia province.

Citing "official business" yet again, Agricola had declined to witness Marcus's gladiatorial bout in Londinium's amphitheater this afternoon. Marcus's opponent had fought well, causing Marcus in his scanty armor to work up a sweat that surely had all the women swooning with delight.

Never mind that Marcus, who fought under his cognomen, Aquila, the "Eagle," remained a perennial favorite with the crowd. Agricola never missed an opportunity to point out that Marcus's public exhibitions--and the resulting pr...

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books; Original edition (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0373771347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373771349
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,490,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Natalie S VINE VOICE on May 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
Rhyddes ferch Rudd is a member of an ancient Celtic tribe who had been dominated by the Romans. Hated and abused by her father for reasons unknown, Rhyddes is sold to Roman tax collectors as payment to settle the farm debts of her father. While Roman law states that a person acquired via tax collections must remain in the same condition in which they were purchased, the soldiers who bought Rhyddes torture her in vile ways. The woman that arrives at the Londinium slave market is not the young girl that unwillingly left her home weeks before. Bought by the owner of Londinium's gladiator school, Rhyddes has one lesson to learn - obey or die. This is a bitter lesson for Rhyddes who wants nothing more than the return of her freedom. The only bright spot in her entire existence is Aquila, the man she loves but will never be able to have.

Marcus Calpurnis Aquila is the son of a Roman governor as well as a highly prized and famous gladiator. Aquila, or "the Eagle" as his fans chant, hasn't the stomach for political office much to his father's dismay and ire. He would rather be performing and outshining opponents in combat in front of cheering crowds in the amphitheater. However, Aquila's father has other plans for his son and they don't include his risking his life for entertainment. Restless and opposed to his father's wishes, Aquila remains loyal to the gladiator motto - obey or die. That motto will haunt Aquila more often than he knows because against all odds and defying all laws, Aquila has fallen in love with Rhyddes, the Celtic gladiatrix slave know as Libertas.

LIBERTY is an epic historical romance with many facets. Not only was I treated to a thrilling story, but I learned important aspects of early Roman culture and customs.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book completely took me by surprise. I had read the synopsis, and was intrigued to check it out. I am very glad that I went ahead and read this book. It is epic. That is the only word for the journey that the main character goes on. The scope of her struggle is nothing short of amazing. I was so engrossed in the book, I read it in one sitting. It is an incredible story of one woman’s struggle under Roman rule. She is an incredible character.
Rhyddes ferch Rudd is a young woman about 18 years old. She is Celtic, part of the Votadini tribe. They had been conquered by the Romans. She has always felt like a slave, her father beats her, never showing an ounce of love for her. Her name means freedom, and this reason becomes clear in the story. When the Picts attack her village, she fights with her brothers- and finds herself fighting a female warrior. This became the beginning to her life as a warrior.
Marcus Calpernius Aquila is the son of the Governor of Britannia province, Sextus Calpernius Agricola. Marcus’ relationship with his father is strained at best. He likes to fight as a gladiator, whereas his father wants him to work toward politics, not associating with the lower class. He has his life decided for him when his father decides he is to marry Senator Falco’s daughter, Lady Messiena.

The story is set about 160 A.D. The Romans rule is far reaching, have conquered most everywhere in what is now Europe and Great Brittian. Rhyddes has no love loss for the Romans. They take and tax everyone to support Rome. Her father decides to sell her into slavery to get rid of her and pay his tax debt. Although her virginity had to be maintained, that did not keep the Roman guards from brutally assaulting her. This was the pattern her life would seem to be taking, everyone hurting her.
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Some books I find hard to put down, `Liberty' was such a book with gripping fast action of what life might have been like in Britain under Roman occupation about 2000 years ago and it held me till the wee small hours. The story of a young girl whose village was attacked by the Picts, killing and pillaging without mercy. But young Rhyddes was a fighter and fought hard to save her family. Unfortunately though, her father seemed to hate her and sold her off to become a Gladiatrix, a female gladiator. It's a gripping story of fighting, lust, love, betrayal and survival.
This is the third book by Kim Headlee I have read and every one has been a joy to read. I can't recommend her books highly enough.
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Format: Paperback
I'm not kidding, either. Actually, I had been looking forward to reading this novel, set in the arenas and gladiator schools of ancient Rome. And I am always on the lookout for new writers, hoping to find someone new to pick up my interest.

Sadly, this novel was not going to fulfill that desire.

The time is that of Marcus Aurelius, Rome's philosopher-emperor, when the empire is at its heighth, and the province of Britannia is a rich outpost. But for Rhyddes, a Celtic girl who labours alongside her brothers on the family farm, Rome means nothing but drudgery. Her father takes pleasure in beating her, her mother has died long ago, and life is pretty miserable. After a raid from Picts, not only are two of her brothers killed, but Rhyddes finds herself sold into slavery by her father. Taken to Londinium, she is bought by an Egyptian, Jamil, and trained to become a gladiatrix -- a woman warrior -- to please the crowds in arenas.

Along the way, she attracts the attention of the son of the Roman governor, Agricola. Marcus Calpurnius Aquila is no stranger to the arena himself, but his father has skillfully manipulated him into giving up the life of a volunteer gladiator, and assuming a much more respectable life. Marcus also finds himself in an arranged marriage with the daughter of a prominent senator, and is chafing at the idea of marrying a stranger, a situation made worse when he spots the lovely Rhyddes, now known as Libertas.

The attraction between Rhyddes/Libertas and Marcus is mutual, but Rhyddes trusts no one after her treatment at the hands of Romans, and Marcus is too much of an honor-bound twit to ever get it together enough to convince the object of his desire to be with him, or stand up to his father.
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