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Total War: Shogun 2 Heaven » Forums » Bardic Circle - War Stories & AAR forum » The Eagle and the Wolf XI: Return to Vetera
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Topic Subject:The Eagle and the Wolf XI: Return to Vetera
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 01-08-13 01:11 AM EDT (US)         
Excerpt from The Eagle and the Wolf XI: Return to Vetera

Marcus erupted from his chair and took the blow aimed for his head on his armored side. The tiny knife in the man’s hand broke against the thick links of his chain corselet, while his own hand smashed a fist into the man’s forehead so hard he broke the weathered skin. The man crashed back with a wave of gushing blood rushing into his suddenly rolling eyes.

Dieter ducked under one punch to land a heavy fist into the flat belly of a second, crumpling the man. Amalric sprang up with his chair in hand sweeping up to pulverize a third’s gonads before smashing the shattered remnant of his seat over the man’s head.

The three upright thugs remaining barely had a chance. They were tangled in the sudden heap of their falling comrades, and proved to be little more than swaying targets for Batavian fists. They were hammered, and hammered hard. Within seconds, before Eivend and the others could come in despite the orders to stand down, all six were laid out unconscious on the inn’s hard-packed dirt floor.


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Other parts of The Eagle and the Wolf series :
The Eagle and the Wolf Part I- Remember!
The Eagle and the Wolf Part II- Tyroes in the Forest
The Eagle and the Wolf Part III- Downs and Ups
The Eagle and the Wolf Part IV- Mushrooms and Murderers
The Eagle and the Wolf Part V- In the Wolf’s Jaws
The Eagle and the Wolf Part VI- Doom and Despair
The Eagle and the Wolf Part VII- The Cauldron
The Eagle and the Wolf Part VIII- Broken Hearts and New Chances
The Eagle and the Wolf Part IX- Ominous Revelations
The Eagle and the Wolf Part X- Trials and Triumph
The Eagle and the Wolf Part XI- Return to Vetera

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 01-22-2013 @ 01:03 AM).]

AuthorReplies:
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 01-08-13 01:37 AM EDT (US)     1 / 45       
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The Alps were distant points on the southern horizon, fast disappearing behind the hills through which the trail leading north wound its snaking way. The sun was high in a cloudless sky, and the day shaping up to be a warm one. The crossroads below, however, appeared to be as cold as the mountain stones with which they were constructed. The small tower nearby did not look too welcoming, either, despite its position protecting a postal waystation. Three men could be seen poking around in the cupola- telling the watchers there was a garrison of at least twelve in the tiny outpost.




Marcus Rutilius, the newly-appointed governor of Germania Inferior, looked over the crossroads and its guardian tower, then turned to the man beside him. Roscius was as nondescript as the governor, though both were odd for Romans in that they looked more Germanic than Latin. Blue-grey eyes and blonde hair, with sharp, humpless noses and broad cheekbones had that effect. In Rome they stuck out as foreigners, but here in the northern frontier provinces, they were merely another pair of locals on the move.

There was no question as to the identity of the fifty-odd men accompanying the two Romans. They were Batavians, more at home in the saddle than on solid ground- though they were sturdy warriors when dismounted, as several trouble-makers have found out to their chagrin. Even cloaked in Roman mountain garb they were easily identifiable as Germanic warriors. Six of their lot, however, were darker, shorter men and not as comfortable on their horses. These were Romans, to be sure, and lent credence to the cover tale that their master was a merchant of high order. None could tell by looking at them that they were in fact public servants, lictors, escorting their praetor. Rutilius wanted it that way, to ensure he and his band made it alive to their destination.

“You are the scout, arcanus,” Rutilius said to Gaius Roscius, looking over the small fortification.

“Gontia and Sabinus are north, anyway,” the scout replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I will turn west if these guys mean us harm. If I keep heading north, then all is well.”

Rutilius thought that over. It was pretty straightforward- very little could muck up the quick plan. He did not need to tell the arcanus what would happen if he did turn west- or be used by the tower’s small garrison as target practice. His sixty Guards would wipe them out and burn the tower down around their ears. There would be no mercy. The doughty Batavians had come to befriend the blonde arcanus on this trip north- and when a Germanic takes you as a friend, it is a friend for life. Those fools below ought to know that, being stationed in land that was once the pride of the Suevi tribe.

“Three weeks,” Rutilius said, reminding the arcanus of their appointment. “At the Civitas Nemetum, south of Mogontiacum. Stilius Nobilis will be there in four weeks, with four cohorts of legionary replacements and three auxiliary cohorts. You know he is out to make a name for himself, and will probably get them all killed fighting Calvus unless we get there first.”

“I’ll be there,” Roscius promised. “So will Titus Sabinus. And if reason fails to persuade Calvus then…” He thumbed the hilt of his dagger. “Your ghosts will not mind if another joins them, no?”

Rutilius smiled grimly. “My ghosts are sated, and resting peacefully.” He glanced down at the dagger that was once his, once had pierced the heart of his wife by her own hand, and was later drenched in the blood of the man who ordered her death. He had taken it from the body of a Germanic king he had thought slain, in what seemed a lifetime ago. Then the memories of the past dissipated. “That is your dagger now, Roscoe. Do with it what you like.”

Roscius looked to the dagger now belted on the governor’s right hip. It was a straight, damascened blade, gilded and jeweled like the one he himself wore. A gift from Titus Flavius Vespasianus, for services well rendered.

“You have a better one now anyway,” he agreed. “Three weeks from today, at the Civitas Nemetum.”

Roscius was a small dot moving about below a few minutes later. He moved close to the tower, hailed it as was the custom, and went inside. He came back out and proceeded north. A few minutes later, Rutilius and his band approached the tower, repeated the hail, then turned west- another band of defeated Suevi heading back to their homelands to register with the auxilia. Neither they nor the garrison thought any more over each other.

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The castrum of the VIII Augusta at Argentorate was an empty shell, guarded by a small crew of three volunteer centuries of vigiles from the vicus outside. There was not even an auxiliary century to stiffen them. So when the castrum’s commander refused to let sixty-odd obviously Germanic riders enter his man-poor but supply-rich castrum, Rutilius understood. He did not like the man’s stupidity, but he could hardly fail to understand the man’s fear of the Germanics with him. Was he in the man’s sandals, he probably would have made the same call.

So Rutilius and his men occupied two of the longhouses outside the walls where once auxiliary cavalrymen billeted. The commander had no qualm with that- anything outside the walls was not his direct responsibility, but that of the other three vicomagistri- whom he considered snobs anyway. Let them deal with rampaging Germani! He had a castrum to guard, by Mars.

Amalric set up a guard roster- he trusted the locals with his horses as much as they trusted him- then detailed four men to escort Dieter and Marek to the inn of the vicus and another to arrange for supplies for the rest. Then, after making sure horses and men were taken care of, he joined Rutilius and Dieter in the local inn.

“The men are bedded down and fed,” he said, pulling up a stool to join his commander and lord. “Heinz Scarshoulder has the first watch, with Jurgen Longhand taking the second. I have the third- the bitch shift- and Ottar has the last. Klaus found a side of beef for cheap, so the men are going to eat well and fresh for a change.”

Dieter grunted at the report. His mind was far from guard rosters and food. Instead, his mind was focused where his eyes were- on the small party of four women clustered off to one corner. He was intrigued as he saw no menfolk with them when they entered a few minutes ago. Four women, alone in a vicus inn? Something was not right, and that brought him to the alert.

One of the women moved in reaction to his staring, revealing the fourth to be less woman and more girl. The extra light falling on the party by her subtle shift revealed more- these were no Gallic matrons, or Roman women, but three Germanic women escorting a young Germanic woman. Germanic women were common here, most likely slaves. Their dress fit the bill, but that of the younger woman in their midst was far from a bondswoman. She had the air of nobility about her. He grunted again and brought his eyes down to the horn in his hand, which he drained. That solved his curiosity- the young woman was obviously of the gentry and on her way to a marriage. He paid them no more mind.

The stew of the inn was rather thin and too spicy- too much of that Gallo-Roman garlic in the sauce which drowned out the rich taste of the beef it smothered. He refilled his horn, and ordered his lord another goblet of the piss these barbarians tried to pass off as wine.

On the other side of the room were six farmhands- maybe slaves out spending their tiny savings, maybe free men drinking up their monthly wages. They were shabby men, strong from physical labor, but poorly clad. It mattered not. They kept far away from the cluster of Batavians in the center of the room, though their eyes often drifted over to the female party in the corner.

“Trouble will be coming,” he said lowly to Rutilius and Amalric. “Those pissheads over there are drinking quite a bit, and casting quite a few glances at the four unprotected women in the corner. I’ll bet you three denarii against six that within the next few horns they try something.”

“I’ll take your money,” Amalric said after a moment’s thought. “We have swords, and they do not,” he pointed out, “and are sitting between them and their affections. They will not try anything until we leave.”

Marcus glared at the farmhands, then turned to see what it was about these women that had their attention so. The three older ones had the looks of young widows about them, while the fourth was obviously on her way to her own marriage. They were well-covered, but he could see they were not hags or lepers hiding their shame in an empty castrum’s vicus. In fact, from what little he could make out in the corner’s shadows, they were quite easy on his eyes. Then he looked back at the roughnecks.

“I am with Dieter,” he said grimly. “Our question is whether we stop them or not.”

Both Dieter and Amalric straightened with indignity and questioning glances to their lord. Such a thing? Of course they should stop it.

“This is not our province,” he replied lowly, “They do not know us, nor is my imperium valid in this province. And we will have to spend at least another week around here or we will reach Nemetum too far ahead of Roscius and Sabinus, which could be the death of us.”

Both men thought that over, but let it show they did not care. They would not let Germanic women be molested by scruffy Gallic peasants within their sight- and damned be the consequences.

Rutilius could read their faces and nodded. “Good. When they rise then, warriors, so will we. Fists only, unless they bring out blades. Fair enough?”

Dieter smiled broadly. It had been far too long since he had had a good knock-down drag-out fight. Amalric’s grin matched his own.

“You might want to tell Eivend and the others by the door to keep out of it,” Rutilius added. “Keep it their six against our three, to keep it interesting.”

Amalric barely had the chance to deliver the signal to stand down when the six trouble-makers rose unsteadily and began moving towards the far corner. This time, however, they had not made their characteristic wide berth around the Batavian table but moved in close. A new scenario ran through the Guard officer’s mind- these men may be less interested in the four women than they were the jeweled dagger on Rutilius’s hip, and the obviously heavy purse of coin tied near it. Dieter had a different take on the sudden move. He saw the six approach and figured they would try to take out the only opposition to their desires. Both men tensed for action as the men neared.

Marcus erupted from his chair and took the blow aimed for his head on his armored side. The tiny knife in the man’s hand broke against the thick links of his chain corselet, while his own hand smashed a fist into the man’s forehead so hard he broke the weathered skin there. The man crashed back with a wave of gushing blood rushing into his suddenly rolling eyes.

Dieter ducked under one punch to land a heavy fist into the flat belly of a second, crumpling the man. Amalric sprang up with his chair in hand sweeping up to pulverize a third’s gonads before smashing the shattered remnant of his seat over the man’s head.

The three upright thugs remaining barely had a chance. They were tangled in the sudden heap of their falling comrades, and proved to be little more than swaying targets for Batavian fists. They were hammered, and hammered hard. Within seconds, before Eivend and the others could come in despite the orders to stand down, all six were laid out unconscious on the inn’s hard-packed dirt floor.

Dieter kicked the broken knife from hand of the first man Marcus had downed, and glanced over his lord’s side.

“It broke on my mail,” Marcus replied easily. “I might have a bruise tomorrow, but it did not penetrate.”

“You were lucky, Marek,” Dieter rumbled. “Had he used a true dagger, it might be you laying there.” Then he turned to Amalric and held out his hand. “You owe me three denarii.”

The tall Batavian grinned, shook some blood from his hand, and fished out three small coins. “I guess I still have much to learn about being reading people.”

“You do,” Dieter said gruffly. “Help Eivend drag these to whatever passes for the local gaol. If you are quick about it, maybe Marcus here will buy you a new flagon when you get back.”

The bodies were removed quickly, and things returned to normal. The innkeeper apologized profusely, to the point of offering a carafe of unwatered wine at his own expense. He had seen the wreck of the first man’s face- the deep, roundish mush in the middle of the ruin could only be made by a signet, and signets meant noblemen and other rich patrons. The three Germanics in the middle of his establishment suddenly took on a very high position in his eyes.

The innkeeper was not the only one grateful for the quick demise of the trouble-makers. One of the women came timidly over, her cloaked head bowed in deference to the nobleman, with two thick blonde braids barely hidden behind her cape.

“We too would like to thank you for stopping those men,” she said in a breathy voice reminiscent of that of Claudius Victor. “I cannot help to think what would have happened to us had you not intervened, my lord.”

Rutilius shrugged. “I am sure you and your lady were quite safe,” he said. “Despite your clear beauty, those men were more interested in my dagger and purse than they were your charms.”

The woman blushed slightly, then looked up. Her eyes were green like olives in the summer, and her skin clean and pink. She had full lips, that were now spread in a broad smile. She met his gaze, then quickly dropped her eyes to stare down at his belt while her smile faded. “Pardon my intrusion, lord, but did I hear your friend correctly? He called you first Marek, then Marcus.”

Rutilius went suddenly on his guard. Her dress was a faded brown, and her feet booted in non-descript leather, but the accent with which she spoke the Batavian dialect was flawless. A Batavian woman, here? Hundreds of miles from their island?

The woman noticed the subtle reaction and smiled again, raising her gaze to take in his face and the surprise registering upon it. “It is indeed as Lady Froydis said. Her husband Marcus Rutilius would be coming soon along this road. I am Sigrun, and my friend there is Inga,” she said with a toss of her head toward the red-headed woman on the right. We are escorting Heidi and her sister Katja to the spa at Aquae Granni, that the girl’s seizures be cured by the gods. She suffers terrible seizures, our Katja does, which ruins her chances of winning a husband. Lady Froydis saw her have one of her fits in the market of vicus Vetera, and told us that the waters of Apollo Grannus work miracles in curing this affliction.”

Marcus nodded. That sounded indeed like Froydis- noticing something and knowing instinctively what it meant, then searching her broad memory to find a solution.

Sigrun dropped her gaze again, blushing this time, though again with her smile stretched across her face. “She asked us a small price for the advice, my lord. If we were to meet her husband coming north from Romeburg, we were to … How did she put it? We were to satisfy him physically, she said, that he not be so filled with lust upon his return that he harms her or their child in his passion.”

Rutilius nodded with a small laugh and a deep blush. He remembered another Heidi, long ago- a widowed gift from Froydis, given for that very same reason. And he remembered the small troop of widows she paraded through his chambers on various nights in Noviomagus- with which he was to ‘satisfy his urges’ – and theirs as well!- so that he would not damage her slight body in the throes of passion.

“You need not pay the price she asked,” he said after a moment of hesitation. Sigrun was very pretty, after all. “But I will tell her you offered, which I am sure she did require. You may proceed to Aquae Granni with your honor sated.”

Sigrun blushed again, and smiled again. “And if I want to pay the price anyway?” she asked coyly. She twirled one of her braids with a finger. The message was clear.

But Rutilius was still a man who was married in his own mind. “Then you will leave this place quite unsatisfied. Maybe you will find a cure for that at Aquae Granni, or along the way.”

Her smile faded at his bitter words, but refused to drop completely. “May we join you then, in order to avoid more unwelcome attentions?”

Rutilius gestured to his table. Sigrun waved her companions over, and introduced them to Dieter, and then to Amalric when he returned. They spoke through the evening about everything and nothing, and both the wine and the beer flowed. Eivend and his small detail were relieved by Fredrich and his, which signaled Amalric that he ought to crawl off into bed if he wanted any sleep before his watch shift began.

Dieter was typically the one who carried the conversation. How he knew so much of little things like flowers and scents, none but Marcus knew. Only he knew how much Maid Milika had enlightened her husband to the things women cherished. He could have brought culture and art to the table, but instead Rutilius mumbled a bit now and again. He was in his cups and morose when he should have been full of the flush of victory after the very brief battle and enjoying the attentions of the women sent by his wife for settle his loins. Amalric was not known as ‘the Silent’ for nothing, which left the Guard Commander as the only talkative one, especially after the officer had crawled off to bed. On the women’s side, Sigrun was as open as her broad cheekbones suggested, while the red-haired Inga was as close-lipped as the only Roman at the table. Older sister Heidi was keeping up with Sigrun in chatting up the straight-backed Batavian, who had turned to regaling them with tales from his time as a guardsman to the Eagle King in Romeburg. And young Katja was sitting quietly as well, tending to the keeping of the cups and horns filled with the correct liquids.

“An interesting ring, lord,” Katja said as she placed the goblet she had recently filled before him. “Most rings I see are made of gold, or silver. Yours is of steel, I believe.”

Rutilius looked down at his ring then up at the girl standing before him. Their eyes met, then the girl looked quickly away.

“It is iron,” he said gruffly. Something was stirring inside him, and he did not like it.

Katja reached out to the odd ring. “Iron jewelry,” she mused. Then her finger made contact with it. Her eyes clamped shut and her muscles went rigid.

She could not see. It was dark, then she felt pulled as daylight exploded around her. She felt herself being moved, and saw a staff of wood which she was laid alongside. Again that feeling of being pulled back.

In the distance, she could hear voices, familiar voices. “A seizure!” cried a woman. “Hold her down” cried another. She ignored them both to concentrate on where she was now. She was alongside a staff, and saw riders rounding a bend in the road. They were thirty in number, dark men with curly hair- and black beards. They were clad in mail, and in their midst rode Rutilius.

There was a sudden thrust, and she felt herself take wing toward him. Closer she came, at the speed of flight, and crashed into his chest to feel warm and wet. Darkness closed about, but for a hole directly behind her. Through that hole, she saw hated Veleda kneeling over her, commanding someone to remember.

Then she found herself on the floor, Heidi, Inga, and Sigrun around her. It was again late in the evening, and she was once again in the vicus inn of Argentorate.

“What happened?” she asked in a trembling voice.

“You had another seizure, Katja,” Inga informed her. “A powerful one this time. It is time to get you to bed, dear.”

Katja caught her bearings and looked about. She shook her head. “No, Inga. I will not have this evening ending upon such a note.”

Inga looked at her mistress sharply. “Are you sure, my lady?”

Katja looked to Heidi with pleading eyes. As the older sister, she was effectively the leader of the small troupe. She nodded, and ended the pleas of the redhead.

The small talk resumed, but stayed peevishly away from the recent episode. Katja spoke a bit more, but tended the wine well and suffered no further incidents.

Fredrich and his men were replaced by Ottar by the time Dieter rose, signaling an end to the evening. “It is time I got my lord off to his well-deserved bed,” he said to the women, then lifted the blonde Heidi by her hand to help her rise while adding, “and got myself off to my own. It is time for a demonstration of those Batavian rituals of which we spoke.” With that, he led the giggling woman with the rather deep blush forming towards the back of the inn where the chambers were located.

Rutilius rose as well. “I shall see you to your rooms, then,” he said, stoically accepting the task cleverly left to him by his devious Guard Commander. Hell, for his actions at the Curia Julia and the battles against the elusive brigands afterward, Dieter deserved the happiness a few hours of teaching pretty Heidi his Batavian Mating Rituals would bring. “And then be off to my own.”

“That will be difficult, Marek,” Sigrun said with a shrug. “Yon innkeeper has but two small rooms and two longhouse chambers in this inn, and your party has taken them all.”

“I can sleep in the longhouses with my men,” Rutilius replied. “You may have my room.”

“Enough of this,” Sigrun said, rising and taking the Roman by his hand. Inga took his other hand, preventing escape. “We shall not deprive you of a bed this evening, though we may deprive you of some sleep! We are women with a sense of honor, Marek, and your wife indebted us by helping Katja. The price of honor is heavy, though in this case, well worth the task of paying!”

Marcus made to resist, but the two women were insistent, and Froydis had always looked after her man. The alcohol surging through his veins, and the touch of the first women he had felt in a long time, charged his blood with a fire and desire he had seldom known, even with his own wife. Like Clemens facing the cohorts in the Forum, he knew when he was beaten and caved.

“One should not stand between a woman and her honor,” he admitted grudgingly, but with a wolfish grin. He surrendered, and let the two women lead him to the remaining chamber.

Katja rose and followed diligently behind.

Rutilus noticed that, and made to protest. But Inga placed a finger across his lips while Sigrun explained, “She may watch. If the treatment works, she may need to know how to do this sooner rather than later.”

He began to protest again, but a firm kiss from the braided blonde sealed his mouth. His point concerning why she could not watch her sister instead died on the point of the tongue thrust suddenly into his mouth. The girl was forgotten as he let the woman kiss him and raise his passion, then counterattacked and kissed her back. It was a short but awkward journey to the door of the bedchambers, which the seizure-plagued girl thoughtfully closed behind her. It seemed Sigrun was finally going to have her way again after all.

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|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 01-08-13 11:52 AM EDT (US)     2 / 45       
A good chapter, Terikel!

Always good to see a bar brawl as well.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 01-08-13 04:33 PM EDT (US)     3 / 45       
At last, another chapter. I liked the way you started it...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
The Bald Eagle
Ashigaru
posted 01-10-13 05:01 AM EDT (US)     4 / 45       
Good to see another update.
Plenty of hints of what's to come.
Nice start for chapter XI!
Bulba Khan
Ashigaru
(id: stormer)
posted 01-11-13 07:55 AM EDT (US)     5 / 45       
If only I can fast forward time till the next update.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 01-15-13 01:49 AM EDT (US)     6 / 45       
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Sextus Caelius Calvus read once again the scroll in his hand. It was unsigned and unsealed, but rarely are such missives signed or sealed. The men who sent them knew how to cover their tracks and remain anonymous. The one sending this was no exception. Still, he had no reason doubt its authenticity- the opening lines confirm something he already knew.



Cornelius Clemens is dead. Natural causes, it is said, but we know better. He was gutted like a pig.

His legion is no more. The XIVth has been broken into centuries and dispersed as replacements to the East. A new XIVth is being recruited.

The I Legion
Italica has been given orders to open the Rhenus Valley Road. It began marching a week ago.

Calvus cursed again. He had not asked to be in this position, yet when Gnaeus Pinarius Cornelius Clemens had put him there anyway and left him little choice. He could have turned on his governor, but that would effectively kill his own career if his governor did not kill him first. His other choice was to join his governor in rebellion.

His choice was easy enough. Death, or a chance at life. He would certainly be murdered if he betrayed his governor. He had a chance at life if Clemens succeeded. It had seemed a wise choice at the time- Italia had no legions. The only troops stationed there were the Praetorians, who were mostly out in the countryside chasing the bandits that were so plaguing the peninsula. Clemens would have a legion of hand-picked men against a defenseless city. It was indeed a simple decision.

Now Clemens was dead and his legion disbanded. The chance to be indebted to him for holding the north was lost. The chance of salvaging any bit of his life under Vespasianus was gone. Now he had a much more difficult decision to make.

He could do one of two things, both of which meant death or exile. He could throw himself on the mercy of the I Italica’s commander and hope Vespasian will see that he was forced to block the north, or he could defeat that legion and use its attack as a preface to invade Italia on his own. Caelius Calvus, Imperator, had a nice ring to it. He would need to keep the legions to the north and east busy with something and he had no subordinate to do it for him, but seizing the throne for himself was the only way out of his current quandary. This was it, all or nothing.

“The primi priores wish to speak with you, legate,” his top centurion said from the door. Caelius rolled up the scroll quickly and snarled. Could those cohort commanders not wait until he had time to think this through?

“Bring them in, Titus,” he said curtly. “Do you know what they want this time?”

Primus Pilus Titus Menenius shrugged. “Same old shit, sir. We’ve been in the field for months now, and not a man has heard or seen so much as a fart from the north. The men want to go back to the castrum, or better still, to the vicus beside it. Plus they don’t trust those Augustan devils from the VIIIth not to rob the barracks and storehouses.”

There was an old military maxim that said no commander ever went to battle alone. He always had others around him- a bodyguard, advisors, comrades, or in the case of the legions, centurions. Calvus applied that maxim now.

“Wait, Titus,” he said quickly. “I would like your advice on a matter before I speak with them.”

The centurion gestured to those behind him to wait, then entered the tent and closed the flaps tight. He turned to find his legate handing him a scroll, and leaning forward to whisper.

“Vespasian had Cornelius Clemens murdered, and now he is sending the I Italica to finish us,” the legate said. “He was jealous that Clemens conquered the Agri Decumates, and not his golden boy Titus Junior or even his crony Cordinus Gallicus. Clemens ordered us into the field to prevent the boys in the north from marching south in rage at his triumph and their neglect. Now I see that his orders also prevent us from being trapped in our own castrum with no hope of relief.”

Menenius went white with shock as he read the scroll. A triumphator murdered, his triumphing legion disbanded, and the prize legion of the army coming to get them? This made no sense at all. What had his commanders gotten themselves into to warrant this sort of imperial reaction? Only one thing came to mind.

“If those big fetchers from the I Italica are headed this way, sir, then we are done for,” he said earnestly. “We’ve been in the field for two months. We have enough grub and chow to last another month, so supply-wise we are set. But the lads have been sitting on their duffs in these mud and wood camps- doing nothing but simple patrols. Their morale is already low with all this drudgery- and you expect them to hold off an attack from a fellow legion? A prestige legion at that? With two other legions moving about to the north?”

“I agree the situation is dim,” Calvus acknowledged. “But we have our orders, and they have not been countermanded. We are to defend this province from all threats- foreign and domestic.”

“I don’t think the Imperator has thought to countermand the orders,” Menenius said bitterly. “I think the Italica is coming to deliver those orders themselves, and then enforce his will. There will be battle, and we will lose. Badly at that.”

“We face a dilemma,” Calvus pointed out. “By following the commands of Clemens, we have committed treason. Whether we knew it was treason at the time is irrelevant. Our careers- and our lives- are already forfeit. The only thing we can do to have a chance at either is to fight and win.”

“Excuse me, lord, but that is bullshit,” the centurion replied heatedly. “My family was once of patricians, as is your own, though mine has fallen from favor into obscurity these past centuries. I have not served thirty three years in this army to be cashiered out for following orders. The only one whose career is dead is yours. The rest of us will survive this mess- if we go back to our barracks now.”

“The bloody I Italica,” Calvus repeated. “It was on the Dacian border, which reports say is very active. It cannot be spared, yet it is now marching against us. Do you really think abandoning our position here will save anyone? They will want blood- and shall have it.”

Menenius shuddered. His legate’s words were worth considering. “You have a point, lord. Had it been a few cohorts of praetorians, I would advise returning to our base. But with the bloody First coming up the road, we are to de decimated, or worse. We can either be killed for doing our duty, or die fighting to avoid a coward’s fate. You have my support, sir. I’ll bring in the other centurions now.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The farmstead was a small one in the middle of the great forest. The Ubian warrior who owned it was a grizzled veteran of the wars- any and all of them in the past thirty two years. He was also a Roman citizen, the prize he earned for twenty-five years of proud service under the Eagles of Rome as an auxiliary. With that and his discharge bonus, he bought this farm to settle down with an Ubian woman to raise cattle and the next generation of warriors.

Darkness covered the farm, as much from the shadows of trees blocking the moonlight as the blanket of night laying over the meadow in which the farm was built. There was a corral with twenty cows, and another with two bulls. Fields of hay were interspersed between the cattle, food for the beasts for the coming winter- a winter they would not see.

The low cottages to the rear of the farmstead housed the farm hands. These were now devoid of life. A wolf in human clothing had entered them one by one to slaughter the inhabitants like a fox in a henhouse. No man survived but the giant who silently entered each and silenced the sleeping men’s snores with quick but efficient thrusts of his sword. First the men in the lower beds, then those in the upper so that the blood of the upper men would not awaken the lower ones before they died. Ten men went to the afterlife in this manner, leaving those in the main house alone. It was there Death would strike next.

A duck quacked, which alarmed the geese, who began a cackling storm. The murderer froze at the barnyard uproar, then slid his francisca from his belt and waited for what he knew would come. The warrior-turned-farmer would come out- probably with his spear, and attempt to drive off the wolf or fox plaguing his animals.

He did, and died. The francisca was a blur in the moonlight before it buried itself in the forehead of the surprised veteran. The killer ran forward now, a sword of poor quality in his hand.

He need not have bothered. The veteran of a hundred battles was as dead as the foes he had killed. The killer retrieved his axe and entered the home to slay the man’s family- sons first, then the women after he enjoyed them.

They called him the Bear, those who had seen him and lived. This he took as a matter of pride at his size- he was much larger than these grain-fed Ubians. He had been raised on a diet of meat, and the diet gave him size and muscles unknown to lowly farmers. They also called him the Wolf, due to his obvious Germanic heritage- blonde hair to his shoulders, with a piercing blue eye on the right and a black patch of fabric covering the hole where his left eye had been. Some called him the Fox, due to his cunning and stealth, though it may be because of his viciousness in his slaughter. None of the names bothered him except one. The Swine. This because of the fury in his attacks.

This upset him. He was once a king, by Mjolnir! He may now be wild, but he was no boar. He was no longer the hulking mass of muscle and speed he once was, but that was due to many moons as a slave to the Romans, fed naught but gruel made from thin oats and then worked like an ox in the fields. Those same Romans had shaved the fine locks of blonde from his head, preventing him from tying his luxurious hair into the thick braids he favored.

But he had escaped their sentence of slavery. He had stolen horses to evade recapture, and taken weapons with which he could defend himself or acquire better equipment. And he killed whatever he came across to continue surviving. But he needed more than just food and weapons. He had a vengeance that starved more than his body, and that too needed sating.

He sought out the farmstead of Otgar for several reasons. It lay furthest from the local village- nobody would hear the screams he intended to cause. Otgar had the fewest farmhands of any in the valley, the lesser chance of any escaping. Otgar had a wife and several daughters- and the Bear had urges. But most of all, Otgar had served the Romans, the ones who had thrown him down from his lofty throne and made a hunted slave of a king. For this and more, Otgar would die. And now he did.

The Wolf entered the home uninvited. A youth was coming down the stairs, a gladius in his hand. The boy stopped at the sight of a man who was not his father coming into the house. Otgar’s booted feet could be seen outside, toes up. There was no doubt he was dead, and his killer coming in. The boy lunged at his father’s killer, but he was no warrior, nor would he ever be. The Wolf struck him down fiercely and quickly with a balled fist. The boy flew to the wall with a loud crunch and slid to the floor. He no longer moved, or breathed.

A shriek drew his attention to the top of the stairs. A woman and her daughter- the youth’s sister, most likely- were there, terrified by what they just witnessed. The killer did not care how loud or how long they screamed- there were no living men within miles to hear them- except him. He took the stairs two at a time and silenced them both with taps of his fist.

He searched the house quickly. There were no others lurking in the chambers he could see. There was some treasure. Otgar had sold some cattle recently- there was gold and silver to be had. He also had a serviceable sword better than the one the killer had used to slaughter the farmhands. All of these were taken.

The larder was also half-full. Waste not, want not, the killer thought as he filled a sack or two with food. A moan escaped from above- one of the women was waking. It sounded like the daughter. He grinned cruelly. It was time for a chit-chat before he filled her with his seed. If she was good, he might even let her live. Her hag of a mother would have a chance at breathing longer as well- if she filled his ear with what he wanted to know. Should either fail to satisfy him, they would die. So was it.

The killer sauntered up the stairs to attend his needs. He was born no animal, but the Romans had made him one. Now, with in the home of a dead tribesman who had spent his life serving those hard foes, he would use those awakened primal urges to satisfy his lusts as would a beast, and revel in it. Then he would be off, to the north, to finish off the man responsible for making him a beast. And then, just maybe, return to being a man again.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 01-15-13 10:11 AM EDT (US)     7 / 45       
Oh wow the Bear has certainly become crazy. I'd like to call him The Rabid: due to his frenzied attacks.

I enjoyed the chapter and be interested to see Calvus lead his legion in defence from the I Italica.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 01-16-13 04:00 PM EDT (US)     8 / 45       
A very intriguing chapter, Terikel. I love the way you develop your characters by showing how they react when facing extreme conditions...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 01-22-13 01:01 AM EDT (US)     9 / 45       
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Sigrun was slumped across a snoring Marcus, with Inga purring contently within the crook of the Roman’s other arm. It had taken a long while- the Roman had evidently been long-deprived of a woman’s touch- before he was finally sated. He had been asleep for almost an hour, judging by the low snoring, which along with the hour and the exhaustion of his love-making her drug ensured put him at the deepest point of sleep, from which he shall not awaken.

Katja yawned once and rose silently from her chair in the corner, then padded her way through the tossed-aside garments toward the pile where Inga had tossed the man’s own garb.

She had a lot on her mind. The Vision given during her seizure was a most interesting one. It took a long while to figure out, but at last she pieced it together. The ring was not only iron, it was made from the head of an arrow that had been used in an attempt to slay Rutilius. It had almost succeeded, but for the thick cuirass he wore. Still, it had penetrated that armor and hit flesh. And looking back through the gap it tore, it had seen Veleda of the Bructeri standing over him.

Most interesting. My mother’s chief rival, helping a Roman. He is indeed close to Veleda as Mother said. Striking him down now, with his trophy dagger looted from the body of a Germanic king slain in his own hall, would be so perfectly poetic.

She sifted cautiously through the tangle of cloth and metal, careful not to let the links of his mail clink against one another. She had seen this night as had her mother, and knew how it would end. The two women she had hired to play the tramps had earned their pay twice or thrice over, she thought bitterly, at least the one chosen to sate Rutilius. The Roman had been starved indeed! It did not help them that she doubled the dose of powder she slipped into his wine either when he had rebuffed the blonde’s first advances. It seemed to take a long time before the drug took effect, and when it did…. Four hours it took to satisfy the bull. Sigrun had to call for help, and even then, with the help of Inga, she earned her pay many times over indeed! But at least he will now sleep heavily, and never awaken.

Her fingers shifted silently under the heavy mail, suddenly drifting across the object she sought. Her hand closed around the hilt of the jeweled dagger with which she intended to slice the throat of this Roman pig.

A powerful heat stifled her immediately. Such heat! The room disintegrated, to leave her in a sun-bleached land more sand than green. Around her men fought and bled bright red rivers, which flowed across the baking stones of the ground to be swallowed by the sand beneath. Robed and bearded men with spears and strange blades fought the familiar Romans in a desperate attempt to hold back the Roman advance. They were failing badly until a brilliant man in shining brass scales came to the forefront of the strange men’s lines. This man stopped the Romans cold, and he and his band of bodyguards held the Romans back until a gladius darted in under his mail to cut his hamstrings. The shining man fell then, and was about to have his head cut from his body when another gladius blocked the killing blow.

A man in a general’s silvered cuirass stood there on the front line, his round face almost invisible behind the armored cheekplates. He spoke, and the shining man was pulled from the press of battle and brought to the Roman rear, where his leg was bandaged. A brief flash, and then Katja saw the shining man- now devoid of armor, hand his dagger to the man who rescued him.



Katja shivered as the stifling heat of the desert evaporated. She found herself now in a garden, as a togate man- the same who was recently armored in a silvered shirt- presented the dagger to the man who was moments before sleeping contently in the arms of the two women. She watched the presentation, and saw Rutilius refuse the blade. The other man spoke some more, and then Rutilius reluctantly accepted the dagger. He hung this one his hip, which held a Germanic sword, but no dagger.

Katja slid the dagger back into its scabbard and released her grip on it. The visions cleared. She shivered again. This is not the dagger of Ulfrich, she realized. It was jeweled as was the Bructeri dagger, but her vision did not lie- this was not the blade she sought, the blade that shall avenge her fallen father.

Then she realized something else, something far more sinister. She shivered in the darkness before resuming her place in the soft chair to think over this new development, but sleep came too fast and ended all further thoughts.

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Rutilius awoke to find himself under a heavy arm, with a thick braid of pale blonde hair tickling his nose. He also had a tremendous thirst. That faded in importance as he realized just whose braid it was that tickled his nose, and whose arm it was draped across his chest. The right side of the bed was empty now, but he vaguely remembered a haze of red hair above him in the night that was not there now. And the watcher- the girl with the seizures- was no longer sacked out in the chair. Both were gone.

He gently removed the arm from his chest. He remembered that his garb- more specifically, his valuable dagger and his purse- had ended up on the floor to the left of the bed. He had a sinking feeling that he had been seduced in order to be robbed. He was not the first, and would not be the last to fall for such a ploy. The purse was replaceable, but that dagger was given to him by the hand of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who had received it from a foreign prince. It was a token of the emperor’s esteem, and that made it of tremendous personal value. He feared its loss, but had no desire to wake the nymph sharing his bed lest she know he had seen through the ploy. She would react violently, and then he would be forced to strike her. He had enough Germanic values in his life that he felt such action repugnant, and had no wish to bring things that far. So he softly rose up to a sitting position, then leaned over for a better look at his things. The hilt of his dagger peeked out from under his tunic, and he could see the tied top of his purse just under it. He had not been robbed after all. He let out a soft sigh of relief.

“You are an animal,” whispered a husky voice from below him.

Rutilius suddenly realized his position, and her interpretation of it. He grinned, but said, “It is not as it appears.”

“Oh yes it is,” the blonde retorted. Her hands found his manhood already rising. His thirst withered and died as his heart began pounding and his body responded to her magical touch. Without warning she pulled him down upon her and let the urges of both have their way in starting the day in the most pleasant way possible.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Outside the room, a whispered conversation not nearly as pleasant was taking place.

“Why does the Roman yet breathe?” hissed Inga the Red. Her tone, though hushed, was accusative in the extreme.

Katja shrugged. “There is more to this than a simple murder,” she said simply.

Inga’s eyes narrowed. “You know Mother’s will. The Roman is favored by Veleda. Veleda is Mother’s rival. Since Veleda favors him, he is to die. What more is there to it than that? Or have you suddenly gotten the urge to do with him what your powder forced me to do when your whore was copulated to exhaustion?”

Katja looked her in the eye. Steel met steel, but it was the older girl who flinched first. “There is indeed more to this than meets your eye. Mother wishes him dead because her rival Veleda wants him alive. She cannot beat the Bructeri witch in strength or power- Veleda is strong, and has never been proven wrong. She is also vanished. So she strikes through other means. Us, against her weakness. Him.”

“Thus he should already be on his way to Valhalla,” the flame-haired wench replied bitterly.

“I saw Veleda save him,” the younger girl replied. “That ring he wears is made from the arrowhead that had pierced his chest, but did not kill him. It would have, but for Veleda’s interference.”

“Thus you must strike her by killing him, as Mother commanded!”

“I am not so sure that is the best course of action,” Katja replied evenly and lowly. “Mother is not Veleda, nor does she have the Bructeri woman’s true sight. She missed something last summer, which sent my father heading north to die. I think she missed something here as well.”

“How dare you second-guess the Seeress of the Marsi!”

“You forget your place, Inga,” Katja admonished evenly. Her voice turned to match the steel in her eyes. ”I am Mother’s trueborn daughter sired by a king, you but an adopted servant of common Chauci blood. You almost got Mother killed last summer by your sudden hysterics when confronted by Gauls serving Rome, whereas I crossed the lands of several tribes alone to reach the battlefield and rescue the High Priest of Wotan and watch my father die by a Roman javelin hurled by a machine. As Mother’s natural child, I have inherited her gift. And that gift says, dear Inga, that there is more to this than simply diverting his attention with female flesh so that I can strike a blow in Mother’s rivalry with her foe.”

Inga winced, then nodded. “Then you get to tell the Batavian-speaking whore to play along one more night. I don’t think she will mind. I will tell the other one who distracted that vigilant Guard captain.”

“One more night only,” Katja agreed. “I only have enough powder for one more dose anyway.”

Inga whistled. “You used half? That is enough to enrage the horns of a dozen men! No wonder I had to give the whore help.”

Katja shrugged. “He was reluctant.”

“It will be more difficult now,” Inga said after a moment of thought. “Here we had the luxury of limited accommodations, where we forced him to share the lodgings. This day he is heading west to his farm, where we will be unable to stay as close.”

“We travel with him. Aquae Granni is also to the west, and by the noise coming from the chamber, Sigrun is pleasuring him again. I do not think he will mind our presence one more night.”

Inga snorted. “She will not stab him down, not after this. I doubt that we can get in the same room without his guards noticing. You have failed, Katja, and Mother will have both our hides.”

Katja shrugged. “I still have powder, and the whore will be tired. She will need help again. And when she does, you will lend that help. And afterward, either finish the job yourself or let me in to do it.”

The redhead winced. She had never cared for the Romans, but after her encounter with Roman cavalry last summer, she hated them with a passion- mainly because she feared Death or worse at their hands. It was strange, though- she could share a bed with one with no problems- Death was not in the room when pleasures were to be shared. But to strike one down, even a helpless one? Her blood ran cold. She shook her head.

“I understand,” Katja said in a condescending and warm tone to her adopted sister. “I shall take care of him myself. I will make Mother will be proud of us both.”

She cocked her head as she heard the sudden exclamation of female joy emerge from the chamber. “Sigrun is happy, which means she and the Roman are done with their waking. Fetch the breakfast, Inga, that we do not arouse further suspicion by our absence.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 01-22-13 06:23 PM EDT (US)     10 / 45       
Hmm, I wonder what will happen next!

A great installment, Terikel!

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 01-22-13 11:28 PM EDT (US)     11 / 45       
An excellent installment as always, Terikel. I can't wait till next Tuesday...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 01-29-13 04:11 AM EDT (US)     12 / 45       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

It was incredibly simple to attach themselves to the party. Heidi asked Dieter if the four maidens could join the Batavian party, citing the episode of the night before as reason for wanting the safety of numbers. Dieter, remembering that episode and the more private episode thereafter, readily agreed. He spoke to Marek, who thought it over, realized the danger of women traveling alone, and agreed. It was a quick task to acquire a two-horse wagon for their transport, and he used the opportunity to fill it with items and supplies that would be welcome at the farm. The fact that his farm was to the west and the women were traveling that way anyway made it a simple decision. Having Sigrun around for another day was just a collateral bonus…

It took longer to reach the farm than it did on the trip south, due mainly to the wagon being inherently slower than the swift horsemen. Also, the horses the Batavians now rode were those swapped at the last postal station, mountain ponies well-suited to the hills and valleys of the rolling land, but were not as long of stride as their own mounts, nor as quick with the gait. The Batavians put up with their slower pace because of the wagon, but they still longed for their own flatlander horses which were waiting patiently for them at the farm where they had been since Piscius had put them ashore in the early spring.



The farm was just off the main road, halfway between the tenth milestone and the twentieth. The trail leading to the farm was a short quarter-mile, and then the fields of the farmstead were in view. A bit further one could see the meadows where cattle grazed, and then the main house and its cluster of cottages for the workers and two barns. The riders cared not for the barns or cottages. They did little more than unsaddle their current mounts and release them to the lower meadows before heading to their own mounts in the higher meadows behind the barns.

It was a joyous reunion of man and horse as the Batavians rounded up their own horses. Half of the Guards set up camp on the high meadows behind the farmstead, while another quarter set up in the larger barn used mainly in the winter. The officers and a few others escorted the women to the main house, where Marcus was warmly greeted by his farm steward, a crusty old Gaul who lost an eye back in service to Caligula, and later an ear under Claudius.

“The wagon has some flour and sugar,” the Roman said after the obligatory embrace, “along with four amphora of that Gallic piss you favor so well.”

Calix, the steward, cocked his single eye toward the wagon. “The one eye the Frisians left me spies more than amphorae in that wagon, lord. Trollops for traveling pleasure? Do not let your wife find out, or she’ll do to your manhood what a Briton did to me ear.”

“These were sent by my wife,” Rutilius admitted with a small grin. “At least the big blonde with the thick braid and that mouse-haired one clinging to Dieter were. They are escorting the honey-colored one to Aquae Granni.” At the steward’s inquisitive look, he added, “seizures.”

“You have all the luck, lord,” Calix said with a grin. “Mine won’t even let me look askance at a pretty thing while yours sends you nymphs. I wish to meet this new wife of yours, lord. Please bring her next time you come this way, lord, that she may teach my woman how to be a proper wife.”

Rutilus replied with a loud laugh, “I’d rather not. Your Rorica might teach my Froydis to become jealous and watchful, instead of gracious and giving. And that would ruin all the fun of having such a good wife.”

“Aye, lord, let us not meddle with that which works properly,” Calix agreed. “I’ll have the quarters sorted out. You’ll be having the main guest room, I imagine. And separate rooms for the maidens?”

“They can bed down two and two,” Rutilius agreed. “Glam has some boys up in the back meadow- make sure they get some chow. Eivend has another crew in the barn. They’ll be using the smithy there, so make sure they have enough charcoal and iron. Amalric and Dieter will be in the house and dining with us. I’ll take the small room at the end of the hall.”

Calix shook his head. “The roof leaked there, and made a wreck. We need to repair the roof, then rip up the entire floor and put in a new one. If these are truly a gift from your wife, Marcus, why do you not share a room and bed with a pair of them? Or were you just pulling my old and crooked leg?”

Marcus sighed. He did not mind sharing the pleasures with Sigrun or even the harpy-ish Inga, but he was still a married man, no matter his wife’s gesture. He felt uncomfortable about this whole thing, yet Fortuna conspired to bring him once again into the same situation as the night before. One does not fight Fortuna, lest one lose her favor. So he surrendered with another sigh and nodded to his steward.

“I will make the arrangements, lord,” the steward concluded. And then he was off, limping and barking orders to the farmhands. The lord was in residence, and things were going to be done right, by Teutates!

The women were invited into the sitting room after a pleasant dinner consisting mainly of chicken, vegetables, and small-talk, but little else. The sitting room was rather small for such a large farmstead, having only four couches forming a square around a central table, but it was enough for the upper echelons of the farmstead and a few guests. The women were, however, surprised to find themselves alone. Rutilius and his officers disappeared into another room whose door was solidly blocked by a Batavian warrior, while the other Batavians were occupied with caring for their horses which had run wild and free in the meadows for almost three months. There were shoes to clean and fix and tighten, burrs to brush out of tails, and the usual task of accustoming the horses to saddles and riders after such a long time without either. The only men the women saw were the steward and a few of his own lieutenants, all of which were happy for the female company and what they brought with them- news of the world outside the farmstead.

After an hour or so, Rutilius brought his officers in and took the steward and his lieutenants out to discuss the farm and what it would need, and what its output would be. There were cows and calves, grain, sheep, and horses to count and discuss, as well as supply lists and other mundane things. This was the information Claudius Victor usually collected, but he was away to the south and would begin his tour in the northern properties when he returned. Rutilius would save him the time by bringing this farmstead’s status report with him. It was a tired but satisfied Rutilius who walked into the sitting room to plop down with a heavy sigh.

Katja rose from her couch to bring him an earthen goblet of wine. It was a local red-grape vintage, sufficiently Roman in character to salve the palate of any Roman or German. Rutilius dwelt in both worlds, so the choice was an excellent one. She served it in the German manner, however- pure from the decanter, and no water added. Rutilius thanked her and drained the thick syrupy wine in a single draught.

Dank je,” he said, then drained a second goblet of well water to wash the thick wine down. He refilled the goblet with water again, and then began slowly to relax. The common business of the farmstead was a pleasant distraction, but what will occur within the coming days still weighed heavily on him.

Sigrun came over to sit beside him. She was another pleasant distraction, but too many distractions at this time could get him killed. Calvus was waiting somewhere to the north with two legions in battle mode. Those legions had fought under Rutilius in the past, but now they have been poisoned against the men of Germania Inferior in order for Clemens to make his move on Rome. That fizzled, but the boys up north did not know that yet. All they knew was that Rutilius was the quaestor of Germania Inferior, and the only one in that crowd who could lead that province’s forces to victory over Calvus. And Calvus, being Calvus, would have his most loyal troops with him. Calvus was to the north, as were the Batavian lands…

Rutilius turned suddenly to Sigrun. “I heard the legions were in the field,” he said. “Both of the ones from Mogontiacum.”

The blonde giggled. “I know little of such matters, lord,” she replied. “And care even less.”

“You should care,” Rutilius said sharply. “Three handsome women alone, peregrini at that , escorting a young and pretty noblewoman south through two legions filled with licentious soldiery?”

“We can handle ourselves well,” Heidi murmured from Dieter’s side. “Inga and Katja are fleet of foot, and both Sigrun and I have seen our fair share of rowdy men. Men seldom fight hard against us- as they do not wish to harm what they want- while we can fight with no such care. And if it comes to pain, we have our daggers and will use them.”

“We also avoided large groups of people,” Katja said quickly. “Especially of men.”

Another hour of idle talk past. As the night before, it was Sigrun and the nubile Heidi who carried the brunt of the conversation from the female side, with Dieter carrying the male portion. Amalric had no guard duty this night, so he helped Dieter in keeping a lively conversation going. This brought Inga in to the party a bit, but both the young Katja and the Roman remained pretty much aloof from what was going on around them. The one drank slowly, the other refilled the glasses.

The hour grew late, and the conversation had grown stale. Sleep was the only option remaining. As the night before, Heidi paired up with Dieter and made their way to his room. Sigrun took her cue and rose to lift Rutilius from his couch. Amalric rose at this, and moved to help the blonde wrangle the reluctant Roman towards his chamber, then returned once he was safely inside to escort the two remaining women to their chamber. He was in a bit of a turmoil himself- the women were not the epitome of beauty and charm that Dieter thought they were, yet he found himself immensely attracted to them. He had a damned good feeling that his were not the only eyes undressing these women and enacting within one’s mind various acts of mutual pleasure. These women were guests, which meant he had a duty. His inner struggle was one of age-old adversaries- Duty versus Lust. One of them would eventually defeat the other. Inside Amalric, one had already defeated the other.

It was obvious to both of them what the tall, quiet Batavian intended. His comments and few words spoken made it abundantly clear. When he took the chair with him, it was confirmed. He was going to sit in the central hall, with his back to the door of their chamber, and ensure no horny farmhand was going to violate their night’s sleep. It will not become known that two women on their way to the healing waters stayed the night under German hospitality and were raped by an overeager farmhand, or worse- a vigorous Guardsman. It was rather sweet of him, the girls thought, but it threw a major wrench into their own plans for the night’s activities.

“Go with Sigrun,” Inga said huskily. She knew what she had to do. She shoved the younger women toward the door through which the Batavian woman had disappeared. “You will be safe enough there.” Then she pulled the Guard officer close. “As for myself, I will require a much closer watch in order to feel safe among these Gauls and Romans.”

Amalric felt a surge of desire tear through his system. Lust came flying out from where Duty had locked it away. His first reaction was to fight it- he had a duty to perform, and this woman and the one she escorted were to be treated with all the hospitality and honor required by ways of his people. This included protecting them from unwarranted attentions. Yet this one was clearly displaying that she wanted such attentions. Yet the internal battle was over swiftly. Inga was not the prettiest thing, nor was her shade of hair especially rare in the north, nor was she the most pleasant participant in the evening’s discussion and conversations. Yet in this moment, here, almost alone, and pulling him close, something snapped and his body took over. As the little one disappeared into the main guest chamber, Amalric drew the flame-haired minx in closer and returned her kiss with as much passion as she put into it. Then they both disappeared into the bedchamber to further this encounter.

Katja entered the darkened room lit only with a small oil lamp with a tiny, hidden smile. She knew why Inga was sacrificing herself, and knew that the Batavian officer would not resist. He had mostly taken beer during the evening, but his last three glasses were of the wine into which she had emptied her powder. Inga was going to be quite worn in the morning.

Rutilius and Sigrun, both of whom had drank of the wine, were already nude and active, but both stopped and drew up the covers which had slid away during their foreplay.

“Our room is occupied,” she said with a small, knowing smile. “So Inga sent me here.”

“Why do you not go to your sister’s room?” Rutilius asked thickly.

“She and your captain are… um, busy,” Katja replied.

“So are we,” Sigrun replied sharply.

“They share a bed for one, while yours is built for two,” Katja replied nonplussed. “Yours can handle an extra body; theirs cannot.”

Rutilius nodded at the logic. Down below the covers, his manhood screamed in frustration, yet the Roman was a man who ruled his penis, not the other way around. There would be no loveplay this evening any more. If the woman had a problem with that, she would just have to learn how to curb her own urges. He slid to the edge, pulling the blonde woman with him, then gestured to the empty place now created.

Sigrun did not like this development at all. She had not had any wine, but her libido did not need the power boost the younger woman had added to the men’s wine. “That may be true, but you can damned well walk about or go to the sitting room for an hour,” she grumbled.

“With all those lonely farmhands about?” Katja asked innocently. During the after-dinner talk with Calix, the visitors learned the farm had thirty men working it, most veterans who had been wounded in combat during the Batavian revolt a few years back. There were only a dozen and a half women living here, all of them married. The nearest town was Argorentate, almost a day’s ride away, and the men were released from their duties only once per market interval. A pretty young maiden, all alone, could be very tempting.

“Let the girl sleep beside you,” Rutilius said. “I can sleep in the barn. Its my barn, after all, and some of my men are camped out there as well.”

“You are going nowhere,” Sigrun said, and pulled him down. She curled up to him, and placed her arm around his chest. She kissed his shoulder, then whispered lowly in his ear, “When she falls asleep, lover, which should be quite soon- your body will belong to me. Katja or no, I want you and will have you this night! Twice!”

As if that were to be his fate, small snores could be heard from the other side of the large woman. Katja had evidently been as tired as she claimed, and may have well fallen asleep alone and unwatched in the common room… As it was, after a half hour of listening to the girl fall deeper and deeper asleep, Sigrun made her move and a long while thereafter the bed was filled with three people deep asleep.

Katja’s eyes flew open. It was dark but not pitch black in the room with the oil lamp either extinguished or its fuel exhausted, but there was a full moon outside and the drawn white curtains let just enough illumination into the room for her to make out the bed and some odd shadows of what must be furniture. The covers had been pulled from her during the night- most likely by the blonde beside her whose sleep was once peaceful but now became restless. The loss of the warmth of the covers was not noticed immediately, but the restlessness of Sigrun combined with the chill of the night air penetrating her thin white gown brought her fully awake.

She judged the hour to be halfway between the middle of the night and the beginning of dawn, when most people were at their deepest point of sleep. But not her. She was not like other people, even in this. And she had a task to perform, a man to kill with a stolen weapon. If not the dagger, then maybe the sword demands justice.

She rose silently and padded around the bed softly and slowly to avoid creaking any floorboards or waking the other two. She found the pile of clothes in the shadows- the pig had simply shed his garb onto the floor, and amid them lay the sword she sought. Her fingers slid over the heavy purse with its contents of gold, and further to the dagger. These items she ignored- she knew their tales, and nothing in them was what she sought.

She searched silently further. There, in the darkness, her hand closed around the hilt of a sword. This could be what she sought. It was a Germanic sword, after all, and of a quality noblemen sought. The blade of a ghost demanding vengeance. It could also be the blade of my father, who died this summer in the far north facing the man lying before me. His sword would make a worthy trophy. It must be so; this must be his. This she drew out slowly, to admire the sword once again before it would quench the life of the man who slew its owner.

And again, like the night before, she froze, transported this time to familiar woods. She could make out herself in the distance, running toward that old ragamuffin priest Eirik, to plead with him to leave as her father died. From where she stood now, however, she could see her father turn to face her as Rutilius pranced with impunity up and down the line of the warhost, bellowing insults and challenges. This is not my father’s blade, but that of the worm, Udo!

Her father turned to face her, with a hardness she had never seen in his eyes.

“If any of what he says is true, Bructeri, then you must answer his challenge,” he said coldly.

She felt her face make a vicious snarl as she replied, “He lies.”

Then more frazzled memories shot past, stopping only when her father handed her a spear and a shield. “On your honor, Udo,” he said sternly. “You must win, and you must do it fairly, or all respect you ever had from my men will be gone like dew before the rising sun. Do you understand?”

She nodded, and mounted the unruly beast. Moments later, as the gladius of Rutilius punched through her shield and belly, she quivered and started to topple over as more and more memories tied to the blade flooded her mind. She saw it all, from the moment she was crowned king of the Bructeri, to the words of Veleda condemning her brother, to her own trickery and dastardly deeds to bring the seeress’s words to fruition. The betrayal of Theobard, and the lies used to convince Horobard to come north. She heard now the words she was too far away to hear before- the words her father exchanged with the man sleeping before her. Rutilius had given Horobard a chance to depart with honor intact, but her father refused. He chose greed and fame over honor, and found Valhalla in the battle.

Rutilius did not kill her father- Horobard chose his own path!

Then a hand closed over hers and the sword slid down out of her grip. Her mind heard words, “What are you doing?” but she no longer listened to them. She looked up into the sightless, staring eyes of the Roman she came to kill. Faraway, her mind realized that he was as powerless to control his body as she was hers. The empty eyes said it all- what was Rutilius was deep asleep, but his body reacted to the sound of his sword being drawn. It was powered by a libido enhanced by her special powder while it numbed his mind. He was an automaton running on testosterone and instinct while his consciousness slept.

She too was an automaton, a vessel of the gods at this moment. She knew what was happening, but was powerless to stop it. Her Vision had faded, but a new one was coming to roost. Her hands let the sword fall back into its home, then lifted high so the man could remove her nightdress. Her hands reached for the chest of this man whose touch so electrified her, then slid along his side to his back. Once there, she pulled him forward. She could not control herself, her willpower was gone. She knew what she was doing was wrong, but as in the visions she had just witnessed- powerful, gripping visions that had utterly consumed her- she no longer had a choice. Other visions replaced those that were, and drew her further into the dreamworld. She was no longer herself, but a vessel of destiny.

Her mouth covered his. This triggered an odd response as his hands tried to push her away. Katja felt a moment of distant alarm- Rutilius was waking, but that alarm faded as his hands pulled her close again as the residual effect of her powder resumed its carnal work as his blood pressure rose. She no longer knew how her tunic came off, or how it ended up under her. All she knew and needed at that moment was for this man to take her, to do to her what she had so disinterestedly endured him doing to the blonde Chatti harlot who remained fast asleep in the bed beside them.

This became a more than a need. It became an obsession.

The shot of adrenaline and pain from her hymen breaking was not enough to release the grip this new vision had on her. She thrust her hips in time to his, and grabbed his buttocks in an effort to pull him deeper inside. She was in a whirlwind of memory, of the present, and a potent glimpse of the future, all rolled into one. She felt him in her in one moment, then saw the hated witch Veleda looming over him, then bearded horsemen with pale hair in steel shirts rode by, long lances in their hands and stout swords at their belts. The two Visions intertwined with the present to completely dominate her, pulling her lover in, then lifting to meet him before sending her off to watch her descendants march and fight their way south. They followed their chieftain, a fellow descendant risen high in service to Rome before that treacherous bitch betrayed him once too often. He now led his forces against Rome, and won victory after victory. The gates of Rome loomed ahead, and she saw her descendant enter them triumphantly, as conqueror!

She gasped again at the scene of mighty Rome at her descendant’s feet, and climaxed physically at the same motion. Rutilius held her closely, gently, before lifting her from the rug and tunic upon which they had lain. Her mind snapped back from the future and from the past where her touch had sent her, careening through the mists back into a body that was now complete.

She wrapped her arms around the man she seduced in her dreamstate and held him close and tightly.

“I think I ruined your nightdress,” he whispered quietly, but thickly, and with a heavy northern accent. “Sorry.”

“No need for sorry,” she grunted happily. Her visions swept by once again, joining with the corporeal pleasure flowing through her loins. She wanted this to last forever, but knew it could not. “No need at all.”

Marcus lifted her gently and led her to the bed. Sigrun had moved in her sleep over to the warm place he had left, He placed the younger woman on the bed, intending to leave the room to let them sleep, but the girl pulled him down beside her and moved to place him between her and the other woman. He had no fight in him now, she thought, as she redistributed the covers evenly and leaned back. Sleep came to him quickly.

But not to Katja. She lay there holding him, her first lover and therefore the one whose memory she will retain throughout her life. But instead of thoughts of love and contentment she was plotting his demise, now that she carried within her what was needed to bring down mighty Rome. She knew her destiny now, just as her mother must have always known. Halla of the Marsi could have told her daughter what would happen, but did not. The visions were powerful aphrodisiacs indeed, far more powerful than the powder she had dusted into the wine. She now knew why her mother always insisted on coupling with those that came to ask her visions. Her body would require the satisfaction or consume itself in lust.

Katja rested, holding the seed of the man who would bring down Rome within her until it served its purpose of quickening her. Then she would rise silently, poison the wine she knew the man would drink in the morning, and depart silently to her fate in the far north where she would become a skilled vala and mother to a man whose sons would reduce Rome to dusty cobwebs hanging on broken bricks.

She almost physically felt the moment a new life took root inside her. That was bloody fast! She could feel her womb change, and accept the seed. She smiled happily to herself, then tried to remove her arm from under the neck of the Roman without waking him. She failed, and laid back to contemplate again what the Mists of Time had revealed to her. The dreams of her descendant’s glory came again, as strong as before, and took her back into the land where dreams and reality mixed with equal ease.

Her eyes opened again, much later. The sky was turning a bloody pink in the east, the color reminding her of her own actions in the night. Beside her, the cause of her waking rocked quietly back and forth, bringing only the most cautious of squeaks to the bed. Rutilius was on his back against the edge of the bed with his eyes closed but his hands holding the breasts of Sigrun, while the Chatti woman herself sat upon his loins and ground away in furious silence in the twilight of a new day.

Katja realized her arm was free now, but there was no way she would be able to move without the lovers realizing she was awake. Maybe the Roman, still under the effects of the night and her powder, would not notice, but there was no way the active Sigrun could not avoid noticing. Whether the big blonde cared or not was another story. Katja sighed within herself and kept her eyes closed, feigning sleep while the two mated. In the meantime, her thoughts wandered.

She had lost the desire to fulfill this quest given her. The sword and dagger told her of a man with honor, who had fought her father and his army with his own much smaller army, and granted him an honorable death in battle. For that, she will not use those items to end him. She had in her purse a twisted pouch of thin leather, and within it another very fine powder. One swallow of that, and his death would be quick and painless. His seed would spawn a race that will destroy Rome; but he himself was doomed by the actions of her mother’s rival. She would put the powder in the water they would undoubtedly desire, and thereby drink in their demise. Sigrun would also drink of the water, her body screaming for moisture after her exertions in the night and morning. Katja Horobardsdottir felt a bit bad for the woman who would die with the man, but she was naught but a whore culled from the Chatti who spoke with a Batavian accent. Her loss would not matter to the world.

The two lovers rolled over once the Chatti woman climaxed, but did not disengage from their coupling. The powder was still in his system, and his body knew only one way to purge itself of the effects. He thrust again and again into the willing woman beneath him until she cried out in ecstasy.

“I am done for,” she moaned softly, though her lover could not hear her soft voice though the roaring storm of blood and hormones pulsating through his head and heart. She gripped him tight and tried to squeeze him into climaxing, but only ended with giving herself another while he pumped solidly onward. In raw desperation she threw her arms wide.

“That little bitch,” she said with a gasp. Her arm had come into contact with the girl in their bed- a girl who flinched but otherwise did not move, and a girl who was as naked as was she. “Stop, stop! She is awake, darling.”

Rutilius had little control over himself. He managed to cease his incessant assault upon the hapless and exhausted body of the woman beneath him, but could not stop what came next. He slid off the blonde and onto the younger woman uttering the curiously lewd phrase, “since she is so curious…”

Sigrun gasped, but more at Katja’s reaction than the actions of the man who had so thoroughly pleasured her then so callously exited. The honey-blonde girl quickly and simply spread her legs under the covers and accepted the demand of the organ seeking entrance within. Sigrun could not know what was going on within their heads, but her own thoughts on the matter were simple enough. If the girl wanted to partake herself in servicing the man for which she had hired the Chatti woman, that was her business as employer…

As it was, the physical act was already predetermined, and neither participant had any thought on the matter at all. Rutilius was still in his drug-induced haze of hormones and lusts, while the woman who put him into that haze through her powders was now paying the price of using twelve times the normal dose. Her thoughts were inconsequential- her mind was entirely wrapped up in the Vision that assaulted her at his touch.

Her eyes screwed shut at the sudden daylight that filled them at his touch, causing her to throw an arm up across her face at the brightness. Under her arm, she could see the Eagle King leading his legions to the Rhein, intent on crossing it to destroy her father’s people once and for all. The Eagles are many- this is an army of annihilation on the move. Before the army stood Rutilius, an older man now but one with the same grim determination and iron honor. He too was girded for war. At his side was one who could only be Veleda.

This must be why Mother demanded his death. She could see in the misty background behind Rutilius a familiar silhouette hovering in the air. It took no genius to determine that was Halla peering in from the Smoky Lands and witnessing this event. Then her mother disappeared, but Rutilius stood firmly before the King. He and the Eagle King exchange foreign words, but the intent is clear. The Eagle King grows angry, but Rutilius is firm. A day later, the Eagle King withdraws from Father Rhein.

Rutilius will not lead the army to annihilate the strongest tribe east of Father Rhein; he will stop it! He will save the Chatti from annihilation, Katja realized. This one was a Roman, but loved- by the free tribes east of Father Rhein as well as by those to the west. As long as he lives, and to far beyond, he will keep the peace he brought until we ourselves decide to break it. Such a man deserves to live, despite my mother’s vision of me slaying him this night She suddenly realized something very important. Her mother Halla was wrong- again. As in the previous spring when she had predicted the entrapment of the Roman army, she had seen the event and no further. Thousands died, including many kings, and set the tribes back centuries. All because she only foresaw the events up to a point and no further. Now, she foresaw Rutilius before the Eagle King and the army, but not the rest. The murder of Rutilius would cause the very thing she was trying to prevent. This was why Veleda has never been wrong, but Mother has. Veleda sees the whole story; Mother but a part.

Or her mother Halla had deliberately lied in order to get her to kill this man simply because he was favored by her rival.

She shivered at the thought that her own mother would sacrifice her gifted trueborn daughter- and an adopted daughter as well- in something so petty as a spite, or as trivial as a half-vision. Another thought froze her blood, which had so recently been so hot and pumping- her mother destroyed the tribes in lending them aid, while Veleda had only given aid to Rutilius- and only then as necessary to keep him alive. She was no traitor to the tribes as her mother insisted, nor did she aid and abet the hated Romans. She kept only one Roman alive, and that Roman would stop the invasion of the Eagle King that was to eradicate her people.

Katja decided she would no longer be a part of this vendetta between her mother and the Bructeri seeress. Her path lay now to the far frozen lands of the north and east, while her mother Halla was doomed to be a forgotten note in history and Veleda a legendary icon. She saw it so clearly now. She relaxed and enjoyed the physical pleasures which accompanied this vision, surrendering to the coupling with the same abandon as had the Chatti woman.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 01-29-13 07:39 AM EDT (US)     13 / 45       
It is good she realized her mistake before she killed Rutillus.

Another good installment and some playful writing as well.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 01-30-13 02:03 PM EDT (US)     14 / 45       
Another excellent update, Terike. I like the way you show the characters' internal conflict...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 02-05-13 02:54 AM EDT (US)     15 / 45       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The VI Victrix was out on maneuvers again. Gnaeus Messala would be rotating back to Rome soon, but wanted to ensure the legion he would turn over to his successor was every bit the hardened fighting machine one would expect from a border legion. Thus the replacements that came in after the summer’s adventure were drilled to the point where they could form ranks in their sleep, and use their swords for hours without weariness. Their equipment was in perfect order- every man clad in a lorica segmentata, with a steel pisspot on his head, each with proper neck-guard and hinged cheekflaps in working order. Every man carried two pila. And every man could swim. Now the legion was making a two-day hike of thirty miles out, build a proper camp, then tear it down the next day to march the thirty miles back. There was no doubt his lads could handle the hard pace. They were like rocks, the Rock of the Rhenus.



The vicus that had grown up around the fortress at Novaesium was empty with the absence of the legion. Only two cohorts of auxiliaries occupied the castrum now, to guard the supplies within. They did not venture out. So the sutlers and merchants and whores whose homes and shops lined the road into the castrum were likewise empty. Only the inn was open and doing business. Travelers needed a place to stay, and Novaesium was still the safest place in the region. And people needed to eat, and drink.

The surly brute occupying the corner table made the other patrons nervous, but Heilgar could do nothing about it. The man made no trouble in and of himself, and his silver was of the proper weight and purity. Besides, what could he do should the brute decide to cause trouble? One could come at him from the blind side where one eye was missing, but whoever was brave enough to do so must also be brave enough to stand and do battle should he fail- and this brute was massive. Heilgar noted the odds and decided his present course of action was the wisest- as long as the brute made no trouble, he could stay.

The one-eyed German ate his stew in silence for the most part. His only words so far were “Beer. Stew, lots of meat.” Nothing else. Nothing else was needed, after the man paid with a denarius and waved away the three sesterces change he had coming. With that, Heilgar decided the brute could stay as long as he wanted.

The other patrons were a mix of travelers, merchants, and vicus locals. Each was talking to the other, and listening to what was said. The travelers were telling of the news, which would tip the merchants to prices and markets, while the locals told of regional events in order to get the travelers to speak more of their news. And through it all, the surly brute munched on his stew and drank his beer in silence.

Until a new traveler came in. A merchant, naturally, and not one of the traveling tinkers or those who made circuits within the tribes. No, this one was one of those uppity fools from Italia who came thinking their wares were made by the gods and therefore by bringing them to this backwater, they could get more gold than Croesus. His manner supported this, as did his close-cropped dark hair, humped nose, lack of beard, and clothes- a red woven cloak of fine wool, over a tunic with a narrow purple border along its lower edge. An equite, or the son of one, on a trip north to escape his father’s authority and lord it over the peregrini as if he were a king. Heilgar had seen it many times.

This little lordling strew gold across the innkeeper’s hand as he demanded the very best table with the very best of the poor lighting in the tavern. Heilgar nodded, and cleared away the tables nearest the chandelier and had his maids bring out an extra three oil lamps. Then the snob wrinkled his humped nose and called the innkeeper over.

“Can you remove that stench?” he asked in a haughty voice. “How can a man enjoy what passes for food in this hovel with such a malodorous stench assailing one’s nostrils?”

Heilgar had no idea what the man was talking about.

Fibullus pointed to the brute. “That man smells as if he bathed in a pungent mixture of garlic and horse-poo.”

The woman at his side giggled at the reference. Heilgar blushed a beet red.

“Now, innkeeper,” Fibullus demanded. “Or shall I take my coin elsewhere. If this latrine has an elsewhere?”

Heilgar did not like the man one bit, though he did like gold very much. “Yes, dominus,” he replied.

He went over to the brute, but spoke in Germanic, which he knew the lordling would not understand. “The jacked-up little pimp would like you to leave. He is paying ten times what others would pay for gruel half as thick as what I served you. If you leave now,” he said, handing over two denarii, “your dinner will have been without cost and you will even have another coin for your trouble.”

The warrior raised his one eye to fix the innkeeper solidly. Heilgar was an older man, but one well-versed in reading his customers. He had spoken truthfully, but with respect, and seemed to be doing all in his power to defuse the obnoxious Roman’s pettiness while preserving the peace of his inn.

The brute nodded. He had heard what he needed to hear anyway. The Eagle kinglet was to the south, while the war-king was in Rome. That had almost brought tears to his eye, until he heard that the man was returning north to his home in that blasted rockpile Vetera. That made his choice easy. “Tell the fool I will leave, and that he is lucky to have had you relay his message and not one of his flunkies. Keep the extra coin, man. Use it to buy the man his wine, that he may enjoy this evening.”

With that, the brute rose and cast a deep glare at the Roman. The challenge within was not missed, but ignored with a laugh. The warrior smiled grimly and nodded again to the innkeeper before disappearing into the night. He had meant what he said to the innkeeper- make sure the man enjoyed his evening. It would be his last.

The encampment was easy to find. The knight had put his wagons nearest the castrum, in the best placement for a traveling merchant with Roman goods to be sold to Roman soldiers. It was his bad luck the legion was away, but they would return by the setting of the sun on the morrow. The day after that, the men responsible for supplies would be visiting his wagons to restock their larders with his goods. But he would not be there in two days

There were forty men in the small encampment. The brute looked them over with a practiced eye. Twenty were drovers- men with strong arms and wide bellies, needed to handle the tethers of mules and manhandle the beasts when they decided to do other than directed. Typically Roman. Another ten were riders- small quick men with darting eyes. These men were Gauls, for the most part- maybe of this side of the mountains, maybe from northern Italia. It mattered not. They would flee at the first sign of trouble. The last ten were guards, hard and muscled men in worn armor, with swords and spears. A shudder passed through the brute when he saw them, then he smiled. These were cheese-eaters, not the brutal types who had kept him imprisoned for months. These will serve as worthy foes, if it came to that.

The inn was behind him, in the center of the vicus. The knight would have to walk in the vicus. And he had his woman with him. Both were guarded by five more men. Five to one, with a female prize. A Roman female. He grinned. The knight was no Eagle chieftain, but he was Roman. He would do. For starters.


The bodies were found in the morning. The guards were found first- two with their helms dented deeply, and the other three with slashed throats. These had been killed in the street and dragged afterward into an alley. The equite Sextus Fibullus was found further in the alley. His face was deformed by a savage beating, and his throat was torn out. The first to find him vomited his breakfast onto the body, forcing the second finder to grimace in disgust as he examined the corpse. But his findings were significant- the throat had not been torn out so much as bitten out.

The woman’s corpse was by far the worst. She was naked, and her soft skin marred by deep scratches. Semen covered her exposed lower portion, mixed with blood and spittle into a hellish pink potion. Her neck and throat showed signs of bites as well, though her manner of death was not immediately apparent. It appeared that she had died of fright.

It was clear something inhuman had attacked the knight and his party. The dented helmets- they had been swept together with such force to cause the solid brass to bend- with the heads of the guards still inside. The bites on the woman were human, but those on her man could only be from a wolf. No man could do such a thing.

The old ones knew. They had tales handed down to them from their grandparents, who roamed these teeming forests long before Romans ever set foot here to cut down the sacred trees and build their awful fortresses. That brute, it must have been him. He had the size, the strength, and the wolflike manner. He was no man, nor was he a wolf with that glaring one-eyed gaze, but a combination of both. He was a were-wolf, and came to punish them for abandoning their Germanic heritage in favor of Roman.

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Breakfast on the farmstead was plain and simple. A bit of a cloud hung over the table where Rutilius and his officers dined with the Germanic guests. Today they would be heading off to the healing waters at the spa of Acquae Granni to the west, while the Batavians were readying themselves for their own journey to the north.

“Take the wagon,” Rutilius insisted. “Calix can put enough food in it to last you a week, while the trip there is only four days. Walking will take you there in six days, and then only if you march like the legions.”

“You are no legionaries,” Dieter said bluntly. “Take the wagon.”

Heidi made to protest, but Katja gave a curt nod, to Sigrun’s extreme relief. She was not up to a long walk after spending two nights pleasuring the Roman nobleman. Neither was Inga, whose equipment was likewise well-used by the tall and quiet Guard officer in whose arms she had passed the night. Thus it was decided.

Glam reported the horse sin the barn were ready for travel and battle, whichever came their way. Half of the horses in the high meadows were likewise ready, with the other half being made that way. He should have the rest ready, adding “if I have the full crew working on it.”

Dieter blushed, while both Amalric and Rutilius gave him a sharp look.

“What do you mean?” asked the Roman.

“Dieter here had me detail a squad of eight for a week-long escort mission,” Glam continued, adding with a glance to Heidi, “he wanted to lead it himself. Now I know why.”

“Women alone, in those wild hills,” Dieter pointed out stiffly. “It was only a few years back we kicked the Treveri so hard that they joined our side. Some might still hold a grudge.”

“We can handle ourselves,” Inga said, repeating the words of the night before.

“We need every man we have if our planned meeting goes poorly,” Rutilius said after a moment’s thought. He looked to his captain with a sharp edge to his eyes. “You know this, and still detail off eight men and yourself?”

Dieter shrugged. “They are Germanic women traveling alone in a Gallic province. I could not do otherwise.”

“They choose to travel alone,” Rutilius reminded him. “Should we disrespect their wishes, simply because one of them touched your heart?”

“Or lower down?” added Glam with a biting jab.

“You both are married,” Dieter reminded them both. “I have not touched a woman since my Milika died carrying our child. And none have touched my heart- until this one. I will not go through that pain again.”

“I do not blame you,” Rutilius said. Compassion dripped from his voice- he really meant it. “Yet you put us in an impossible position. A journey to the Waters and back would take a minimum of eight days. We must move north within four days or Titus Sabinus will die. We must move in strength or we will die. And the women must move on to Acquae Granni to cure the girl’s seizures, or they will get worse and maybe kill her. We must part ways, and part ways in strength. So choose now, Guard Captain. Who dies, that your heart does not break? Sabinus, the nephew of the Imperator and who is both my friend and protégé? Myself, whom you swore to protect and serve, and who has been your sworn friend and lord since that day your cavalry destroyed the warhost of Civilis on the fields before Vetera? Roscius, with whom you have broken bread and shared beer? Or do the women proceed on alone, like they have since they left the Island ten days before?”

“I do not wish to learn of the death of Marcus Rutilius,” said Sigrun with open honesty.

“I would not want my gender to be the cause of it,” Katja added.

“And I would not want to live with a man whose devotion to me cost him his honor,” Heidi concluded. “The choice is yours, my love, but it is fairly clear. Your lord is correct.”

Dieter thought over that, and nodded grimly. There really was no choice. Sabinus and his men would die if Calvus and his legions found them first, as would Roscius, and Rutilius thereafter. Nobilis and his cohorts would come to battle and die as well. The women had already proven by their very presence that they could travel. His new flame was correct- as much as he disliked the situation, there was nothing he could do but his duty to his lord. Eight men might not matter much in battle against a legion or two, but eight Batavians could make a difference between life and death for his lord if battle came between the Guard and those men of Calvus who could possibly catch them- the auxilia cavalry.

“I shall have Calix prepare the wagon,” he said, and turned to Glam to add, “and cancel the escort.” His voice then turned to ice. “For now. Once the question with Calvus is settled, I shall travel directly to Acquae Granni with eight men and escort these ladies back to their homes on the Island, whether they wish it or not.”

“Fair enough,” Rutilius agreed.

“I’ll be one of those eight,” Amalric added, with a glance to the red head beside him.

“Then it is settled,” Katja said with finality. “We shall travel on to the spa, cure me of this awful ailment, and await our gallant escort north.”


An hour later the women were on their way west. Inga gave Amalric a quick kiss, then climbed aboard the wagon to take a rear seat. Sigrun gave Rutilius a more passionate kiss, and thanked him for an unforgettable pair of days. She also hoped that she left of enough of him in working order to please his wife, finishing with, “I find myself in the curious position of again being in her debt from the course of paying off my first debt.”

Katja was next. She gave the Roman a deep kiss, surprising all but Sigrun. Then she was in the wagon’s front seat. A moment later Heidi disengaged herself from Dieter and joined her. And then the wagon was off, heading down the hill towards the road beyond until it passed from view.

“I must thank your wife,” Dieter said to Marcus. “She has healed my heart with her gift, much as she healed yours.”

“The touch of a woman can do that,” Rutilius agreed. “Now we can cease dawdling and get to work. Glam has ten horses remaining to have their shoes checked, and another six saddles to oil up. Amalric will be seeing to the supplies. And now that your head is back upon your shoulders instead of below your belt, we can discuss exactly how we are going to tackle two legions and their supporting auxilia with but fifty three riders.”

The Batavian smiled broadly. “Fifty three Batavians, lord. With that, we can conquer the world!”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 02-05-13 03:35 PM EDT (US)     16 / 45       
An excellent update Terikel, full of gore and brutality...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 02-06-13 08:02 AM EDT (US)     17 / 45       
The one eyed barbarian - once of the Bructeri - should be called The One Eyed Werewolf.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 02-12-13 00:48 AM EDT (US)     18 / 45       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Marcus did not share the optimism of his Guard captain. He knew what he could do with fifty three Batavians, and what he could not. The legions were not his problem, nor was the auxilia cohorts. It was the four cavalry alae attached to Calvus that would cause him headaches. They were Gallic heavy cavalry, the best in the Roman warhost after the Batavians. And they would be at full strength.

Glam did not share the captain’s optimism either. Each ala had about four hundred and eighty men when at full strength, which it would be after the wave of replacements recruited after the campaigns. The one good point was that after the campaign, two of the alae had been transferred to Moesia. And one would certainly be with Sabinus in the east, leaving one full strength ala to deal with.

“Sigrun does not know shit about units,” Rutilius told his officers. “But she does know a lot about symbols and jewelry. She mentioned a group of men with a horsetail standard wreathed in silver along the river just west of Civitas Nemetum. That puts the II turma of the Gallorum Indiana west of Nemetum. And where the II turma is, you can find the III, IV, and V as well.”

“That puts a quarter of the horsemen there,” Glam nodded. “Now, how do we find the rest?”

“Doctrine would have the rest deployed laterally,” Amalric said. “So extend west from the river.”

“That is indeed the tactic textbook should the enemy be to the south,” Dieter reminded him. Now that his distraction was gone, he was as sharp as ever. “But Calvus is not facing south. He will be facing the greatest threat- since he does not know of us, that makes his threat Cordinus to the north, especially if he follows Marek’s advice to start moving legions around once the summer comes. You will find most of the Gallorum Indiana straddling the routes a legion would take heading south. What your blonde friend saw was his strategic reserve.”

“Strange how she noticed no legions,” Glam said suddenly. “They are sure to be camped in the area somewhere watching the roads. Four pretty women, traveling alone? I don’t see how they slipped by unnoticed.”

“Back roads,” Amalric said. “One can travel quite unseen on back roads. Swiftly as well.”

“Which means that Calvus has his infantry near the main arteries with the cavalry roaming the back trails,” Dieter concluded. “Makes sense. And with his reserve near Nemetum, his legions must be to the southwest of Mogontiacum.”

“If Cordinus is making noises like Marek advised, this Calvus may deploy one of those legions back to the stone burg at Mogo,” Glam added. “That would leave him a legion in the field, plus the auxilia- and those would be split against what is coming from the south. Not even the entire Indiana ala can cover all of both approaches, II turma be damned.”

“The II turma…” Rutilius mused aloud. “Was that not the lead turma of that bunch that told us the Via Mala was closed?” When the officers nodded, he continued, “their commander was Ianias. He was a friend of Roscius, from what I recall, and a solid Roman for all his Greek forefathers. This gives me an idea…”

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Glam’s men had the horses ready by the time Rutilius and the officers finished their council. Amalric had the supplies ready, and Eivind had the guard roster ready. A cow was slaughtered and its blood collected before the meat was sent to the smokehouse as a replacement for what the Batavians would take with them. Calix had no objections- the farm and everything on it belonged to Rutilius anyway, including the livestock.




The rest of the day was spent drilling the men and horses for battle. The blood from the slaughtered cow was spread upon spears and the fences, as well as upon the men and the field. Then the riders assumed their formations and practiced charges and wheeling, forming and reforming, all the while re-acquainting their horses with the scent and feel of combat. The mounts were deemed battle-ready by evening, and both mount, men, and gear were cleaned by dark. Each man was confident his horse would not shy at either bloodshed, noise or sharp objects before them.

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Sunrise came, bringing with it the fresh scent of summer. The Batavians packed their gear, checked over their horses one last time, and prepared to depart. In the main house, Rutilius went over the farm’s report with Calix one last time before their noon-time departure.

“I would like to thank you once again for the hospitality, and the way you run this farmstead,” Rutilius said.

“Tis I who should thank you, lord,” the Gaul replied. “It be your denarii and your mercy that allowed this dead and abandoned place to thrive. You provided a home for our veterans, whole and wounded alike, and kept them from turning to the Ways of the Wolves to survive. You gave them the choice, and they are good men still due to that.”

A shout from Eivind brought them to the window.

“Wagons, lord,” the guard reported. “At least ten of them. They ought to be here in ten minutes.”

Rutilius looked at Calix. “You have merchants make deliveries?”

The old Gaul shrugged with a laugh. “The next good place for a caravan heading west is thirty miles away. Some of them like to pull in here to refresh their water from our well, or acquire fresh food. We don’t mind, Claudius Victor and I, because it saves sending a crew to town now and again, and hungry men bargain poorly. We come out ahead, every time.”

That made sense. Rutilius nodded once in agreement, then made his farewell with a firm grip and a Roman embrace. Then he was off to the barn where Dieter should have his mount ready. Glam should be bringing his men down from the high meadow, and all will be ready to travel as soon as the wagons clear the road.

“What do you see?” asked Rutilius. He noticed his Guard captain observing a horse in great detail. Was this a prized horse, now retired to pulling a wagon?

“I see a dapple grey horse with a brown blotch on its ass,” the Guard captain replied. “Pulling a two-horse wagon with what can only be described as a spirited riding horse as its mate. Most unusual, unless the wagoner is trying to break the spirit of the riding horse by pairing it with a broken plodder.”

Rutilius saw the horse, and the wagon. It was indeed a two-horse wagon, the only one of the fifteen forming their camping circle. All of the others were pulled by four mules each. Suddenly Dieter dropped the reins to Marcus’s horse and gripped his blade. With a nod he pointed out one of the merchant guards.

Rutilius mounted his horse quickly. He whispered a command to Ottar behind him, who dashed back into the barn while the others in the courtyard closed ranks and formed for battle.

The merchant captain noticed the sudden shift in the Batavians and wondered why he was so quickly deemed a threat. He unbelted his sword and handed it to a man at arms behind him, then stepped forward in the universal gesture of one wishing to talk.

Rutilius rode forward to meet the man, his hand on the hilt of his long Germanic sword, but the sword itself still within its home. As he got closer, he noticed there was no mistake. The guard who had caught his eye did indeed have a deep, oblong bruise on his forehead, and in the middle of that bruise was etched a smaller ring- complete with a prancing Pegasus in the middle of it.

“I have been here a dozen times,” the merchant captain spoke, holding his arms out to the side to show he held no weapon or presented any threat. “Each time we refresh our water and food, and trade with Calix. Each time he gets the better of me, but both our crews are friendly and enjoy the company. My company is a good one, and respected. Thus I am taken aback by the sudden rush to arms I see among you, Germani. If you are friends of Calix- which you must be to pass the night in this farmstead of veterans- then you need fear no harm from us.”

Rutilius did a quick count. Fifteen wagons, each with two drovers. Thirty men there, and another thirty on the ground. Five riders, still with spears in hand though the points raised high in line with the peaceful message of the captain. Sixty five men, versus the twenty he had by his side. Glam and the other thirty would be here from the high meadows shortly, giving him a better-than-even chance.

He looked to the merchant captain. The man was open and at least pretending to be honest. His men were slowly moving closer together, but he knew that to be the natural and unconscious reaction of men unexpectedly confronting danger. His own Batavians were also edging closer, though they had the iron discipline to recognize it happening and fight the urge. All that he saw screamed to him that these men are as they appeared- simple merchants. Yet the wagon proclaimed otherwise, as did the brand on the one guard’s forehead- a brand put there by the impact of a Rutilian fist in a Argentoratian tavern a few nights past.

“That wagon,” Rutilius said. His voice betrayed neither anger nor hostility, remaining as neutral as iron. “I would know how you came to possess it.”

The merchant knew immediately which wagon. “Two of my men found it abandoned alongside the road yesterday evening, two miles past the fifteenth milestone from Argentorate. No sense leaving a perfectly good wagon to rot or worse, so we took it with us.”

The unspoken accusation of thievery hung heavily in the air, and turned the openness of the merchant to indignation.

“May I ask who you are, to question me so?” he uttered stiffly. In doing so, he took a step backwards toward his men. Rutilius could not tell whether the step was an unconscious one toward safety, or a very conscious one.

“Calix!” he called. When the Gaul stepped forward, he bade the steward tell him of this merchant. The Gaul complied, saying the Septimius Ulnas Venator was indeed a merchant of good repute within the province, circling an oval route from Argentorate through the Vosgen Hills to the head of the Mosella before following it down to Mogontiacum and back to Argentorate. Many of the smaller villages away from the main roads are reliant on merchants like Ulnas for things they cannot produce themselves.

Ulnas nodded to confirm the Gaul’s words. Then he asked Calix to vouch for this uppity German who dared question the honor of one of the province’s merchant princes.

Calix laughed. It was a bitter one, and weak, but he could not help himself. “Septimius, I present you Marcus Rutilius Lupus, the owner of this farmstead of which I am the steward. He is also the ascending governor of Germania Inferior, as testified by those six lictors in his entourage. He will take office as soon as he arrives back in his province, after a sojourn to Rome itself.”

Ulnas suffered a moment of confusion as the words sank in, but once they did, even a blind man could see that he relaxed visibly. The man before him might look German, but if Calix named him the owner and a governor, then it was so. The lictors were easily recognizable as such once named, and that sealed the deal. Calix had the reputation of being a man of honor, displayed by the wounds he earned in service to the Eagles. Sextus Ulnas had served alongside him, and his son Septimius knew well his honor. He took two steps forward, then bowed his head to the magistrate. “I am honored,” he said.

Rutilius was less so. “That wagon was carrying a week’s worth of food for four, and had two of my horses drawing it. I see one of the horses still bound to its tethers, but the other is gone. As are the four women who drove the wagon.”

Ulnas raised his hands in supplication. “I swear by the gods of Rome and Gaul, lord, that this wagon was brought to me as is- empty and drawn by a single horse. I bound one of my scout’s spare horses to it, but otherwise it is as untouched as when it was brought to me.”

Rutilius could hear the truth in the man’s voice and see in his mannerisms that he was not attempting to deceive. Yet he also felt the nuances of the words chosen very carefully.

“You are welcome to our well and to trade with my steward,” he said, choosing his own words carefully. “After my men and I inspect your wagons.”

Ulnas bowed in consent- he had nothing to hide. Yet one of the guards behind him looked up sharply. An instant later the six guards beside him had their weapons at the ready.

“Melnis! What is the meaning of this?” Ulnas cried. “We have nothing to hide.”

The guards with their weapons ready hesitated. One of them called to the merchant in Gallic, to which the merchant cursed. The other guards turned on the small band huddling together while a storm of Gallic curses filled the air. Finally it was settled when the hostile guards lowered their weapons and allowed the others to disarm them. Ulnas then turned to the lord of the manor.

“It seems my guards were not completely truthful with either you or me,” Ulnas said with bitterness in his voice. “They did find the wagon where I said, but it was not abandoned. There were two foreign women in it trying foolishly to drive the wagon with a single horse. A small group of my men decided they would make a little money by selling these women in the next town to which we came. They did this, lord, without my knowledge or consent.”

“Have them bring these women out now,” Rutilius ordered coldly.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 02-13-13 12:19 PM EDT (US)     19 / 45       
Nice update, Terikel. I can't wait till next Tuesday...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 02-15-13 06:50 AM EDT (US)     20 / 45       
Neither can I!

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 02-19-13 00:37 AM EDT (US)     21 / 45       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The order was obeyed. The disarmed guards went to the ninth wagon, and pulled from there two bound and gagged women. Sigrun and Heidi. The other guards freed the prisoners, then turned to their prince for directions concerning those who would be slavers. They already knew the fate of their fellows, though the would-be slavers seemed to be ignorant of this. They were to be stripped to the waist, tied to the wagon wheels, and receive as many lashes as the merchant captain deemed necessary to wash away the taint they had brought to the company.

“We could have fought,” one of the guards said to Rutilius. “We have you heavily outnumbered. Yet we surrendered peacefully. Surely that is worth some mercy, lord.”

Rutilius grinned. “You should be more observant as a merchant scout,” he admonished. “Look to your right. Not two hundred paces away are thirty one Batavian cavalrymen in battle order. Had you attacked, I would have faded back to give them room to fall upon your exposed flank and slaughter the lot of you.”

The man blanched as if struck by a pole. Ulnas laughed.

“I must be more careful in my selection of men at arms,” he said. “Those six are new- I hired them near Mogontiacum a week ago. I thought them veterans and well-drilled, but looks can be deceiving. I apologize, lord, for failing in my responsibility as captain.”

Rutilius gave a brief nod in acknowledgement. Ulnas was serious, and his apology heartfelt. “Better to learn now than when brigands attack,” he said. “Bring the women here.”

Rutilius looked down at Sigrun. “Where are the other two? The maid Inga, and the Lady Katja? And why were you found twenty miles to the east, when Acquae Granni is one hundred thirty miles to the west? What happened?”

Sigrun could not meet his gaze. “Katja and Inga took the pale horse last night and rode off. Heidi and I tried to follow, but the wagon would not steer straight. We ended up getting stuck. This morning, three men found us trying to get the wagon out of the culvert. They helped, then tied us up and smuggled us into the caravan.”

“That does not answer my questions, woman,” he said sternly, and in Batavian.

A tear fell from the big woman’s blue eyes. “I cannot do this anymore. I apologize, Marek, for deceiving you. It was all Katja. That little vixen and her sister offered us much wealth to play the part of her escort, and to please the man she pointed out to us. I was given to you.” She lifted her head to meet his steely gaze. “I may have been paid to lay with you, but I would have done so freely.”

Rutilius ignored the attempt at praise as a guile to soften his anger at these revelations. “Heidi was her sister, not Inga.”

Sigrun shook her head. “Inga was her sister, lord. Heidi was paid, as was I, to seduce yon straight-spined captain. They came to our village, Goat Horn, in Chatti lands. They sought us out and bought our services with enough wealth to make a fine dowry, ensuring we could have our pick of husbands. They said they chose us because we spoke with accents- we had grown up in Batavodurum before our father was killed by his jealous brother ten years earlier and our mother fled with us to the Chatti. Katja took us by boat across Father Rhein to the Roman burg, where she explained our role and told us what to say. A day later, there you were.”

“So you were diversions,” Rutilius mused. “For what?”

Sigrun shrugged. “I do not know. Katja hired us to play a part. We did so. Evidently well enough to get you into bed, twice.” That last was said with a sly grin.

But it was not effective. Every answer she gave raised new questions. “How did Katja know where I would be and when? I did not know this myself. How did she know of my wife’s gesture of sating my urges with lonely widows when we have been apart for a spell? And how would she know I would accept it?”

“She is fey,” Sigrun said simply. “The fey are different than us. Her father was Chatti- I saw that in the lines of her jaw and the broadness of her cheeks, as well as the complexion. I heard Inga once mention the father of Katja being a king. I believe it- she had the look of Horobard about her.”

Rutilius remembered the body of the large man brought to him by Wotan’s Sacred Grove. A bear of a man, the giant who had led the warhost penning four legions, and refused to let them free. He had died in the battle. He did indeed have honey-blonde hair and broad cheekbones, with a narrowing jaw. A male version of the girl with the seizures. “”Horobard was no fairy elf,” he said. “He was a true man, though a poor general.”

“Tis her mother who is fey,” said Heidi, coming to the side of the flaxen woman. “Halla, they call her. Halla of the Marsi, the seeress who has lain with both Horobard and the Bructeri King. She has power, that one, and travels often to the Smoky Lands to seek the future. It was she who foresaw your Eagles penned by the Grove, with Horobard leading them.”

Rutilius snorted. “Both men are dead by my actions. She advised Horobard to go north, eh?” Then he sobered. He knew why Katja had sought him out, and how. She had inherited her mother’s gift, and came to avenge the loss of her father and punish the man whose actions turned a prophecy of glory into the worst defeat the tribes had suffered since Germanicus. “She was to kill me.”

Sigrun nodded. “She had packets of powder with her. I had assumed them to be medicine, especially after she strewed them in your wine. They could not be poison- not with the reaction they gave you!” This time she flashed a wide smile. “But then again, it could be she used the wrong powder.”

Vague memories came forward now. He had been poisoned, probably with the same substance that Domitianus used to murder Mucianus. That old man had died in the arms of some senator’s wife in the middle of fornication. It could be the Marsic princess had wanted to do him in in the same way- a manner no man would look into. Death by choking poison or other means would arouse suspicion. Four women alone in a foreign province, last seen with the poisoned man? It would not take long to find and crucify them. But should he die while copulating… The matter would be closed quickly.

“No, she used the right powder,” Rutilius said. “She just used it on the wrong man. My heart is still young and strong- it would not burst as would an older man.”

“I can vouch for that,” Sigrun said bluntly. Her loins still ached. “There is much about you that would not burst, even after hours of pleasure.”

Rutilius blushed deeply. He remembered little of the nights, but he remembered well the mornings- at least some of them.

“I earned my wages many times over,” Sigrun said with a nod as Rutilius awakened those hazy memories. “I even had to call in help. Inga aided me in pleasing you the first night, and Katja herself the second.”

That broke the dam holding back his recollections. Katja had effortlessly accepted his organ that hazy morning- definitely not the way a virgin would react. Nor was her rhythm that of a girl becoming a woman for the first time. She was inexperienced to be sure, but not unduly so. She had made love before.

Then it hit him. The night which led to that morning. He had thought it a dream, but now knew it to be true. He awoke to the sound of his sword being drawn, and took the blade from her hand. Then they coupled, eagerly and thoroughly. Twice, there on the floor, before he brought her to the bed and returned to sleep. She had drawn the sword to plunge it into him, but something in her changed- maybe a seizure, maybe a second thought- and instead his personal sword had plunged into her.

“She wanted me dead,” he said, explaining a bit about the encounter with her and the blade, “yet could not do the deed.”

“I do not think so,” Heidi said. “She could have slipped another powder into your morning water, and then fled. She would have killed both you and Sigrun and been long gone. The same with your dagger, which was by your sword. Quick and easy, and then gone to leave Sigrun and I to take the blame. And if she wanted you dead, she would not have said what she said when she and Inga rode off to the east and the boat.”

“I had thought that just foolishness,” Sigrun said. “Why would Marek care if a witch is no enemy of Rome or not?”

“Because he is a governor, or soon will be, and she is fey,” Heidi retorted.

“Both Katja, Halla, and Veleda are fey,” Sigrun reminded her. “All share the blood of sacred Aurora. And look what it got them? Halla is disgraced- none will trust her word now. Katja is a little vixen who hired whores to get close enough to kill, then slept with her target herself instead. And Veleda has disappeared into the shadows of the Batavian defeat, in which she was the major advisor. None of any importance anymore. What does any of this folklore have to do with anything?”

“Veleda?” Rutilius and Dieter said in chorus.

“Katja said Veleda was no enemy of Rome,” Sigrun repeated. “This from the mouth of a fey who tried to screw you to death, about a woman whose words directed the whole of northern Germania in a losing war with Rome. Like anyone is going to believe that!”

But Dieter and Rutilius believed. Only Rutilius had been privy to the briefing given him by Titus Vespasianus himself prior to their departure from Rome, but Rutilius withheld nothing from his Guard Captain. One of the tasks he was to accomplish during his reign was the capture of the Bructeri prophetess, a task the Imperator thought easy with the new Bructeri king being such good friends with the Roman governor he was sending. Only Rutilius and Dieter knew of this, and other tasks, yet somehow the Marsic vixen knew, too. And more, Halla and Veleda were rivals- why would Katja betray her mother to protect her mother’s rival?

“Did she say anything else?” Dieter asked.

“Only for us not to worry, that we would be home shortly, and safely,” Heidi replied. “And that you would be thankful that she ditched us the way she did, the bitch!”

Rutilius shifted his gaze from the maidens to the merchant at that. Ulnas was readying the whip, to punish his men for bringing disrepute upon the company.

“Hold!” he commanded. He dismounted quickly, Batavian style, and ran the short distance to the captain. “I wish to question these men.”

Ulnas wondered what that was about, but let the whip rest. The magistrate was wise to ask before the whipping rather than later- few men ever survived fifty lashes. He nodded to the Roman.

“You knew your fate for smuggling slaves,” he said. He gazed at the one with the Pegasus-bruise marring his forehead. “And you attacked my officers and I in Argentorate.”

This brought a huff from the merchant captain. Had he known this, the men would never have been allowed to set foot near his caravan! But Rutilius had other memories- of four women who sat calmly by watching the brief fight erupt and climax within seconds- and never spilling a drop of their drinks.

“You were dressed as farmhands,” Rutilius continued. “Since you are guards by trade, that made your dress a disguise, which leads to premeditation. You disguised yourself to attack. Yet until a few minutes ago, you thought me a German. One does not need to dress as a farmhand to attack a foreigner.”

Melnis nodded. “The little honey-haired one paid us two denarii a piece to have a bit of fisticuffs with some Germans. We took her money, drank up the wages, and moved in to throw our punches. But when we saw the jewelry you had, we decided to do you in for real. We thought ourselves blessed that you did not kill us, and further favored when the gods threw the two whores in our path. Righteous compensation for getting our faces smashed, we thought. I still wear the brand your ring gave me.”

Rutilius turned away, his suspicions confirmed. He gave a short nod to Ulnas, who in his mercy for their honesty, decided to reduce the lashes to thirty and cast them from his company.

“Give the scourge to another, captain,” Dieter called. He had thought through the cryptic message of the vixen and saw that she too was no enemy of Rome or of Marcus, despite the blood. The merchant had come to the farm from Argentorate, and came there from Mogontiacum. A merchant who had grown up in the home of an auxiliary officer, who knew military ways. “I would know the disposition of the forces you must have passed through on your way here.”

Rutilius kicked himself mentally for not thinking of that himself. Such a simple connection.

Ulnas turned the lash over to a lieutenant and drew a quick map in the dirt with a spear borrowed from a Batavian.



“Here is the Rhenus,” he explained, “and here Mogontiacum, where another great river meets.”

“We are familiar with the lay of the land,” Dieter said bluntly. “He was acting governor of both provinces after Civilis was defeated, and remained governor until Vespasian sent new ones north to replace him.”

That dropped a denarius on Ulnas. “You are that Rutilius?” he asked in wonder. “I did not know you had a cognomen!”

“Back then I did not,” Rutilius replied. “The Imperator gave it to me a month or so ago.”

“Ach, a deed well done,” said Venator the Hunter to Lupus the Wolf. “Anyway, here to the south of Mogontiacum, where the valleys narrow near Borbetomagus, stands the bulk of the VII Gemina. The other three cohorts are stationed a bit to the west, guarding a trail that leads through the hills and could flank the rest of the legion. The VIII Augusta is set further north and more to the west, within easy marching of the castrum should it be threatened..”

“He knows,” Dieter said, with both Glam and Amalric nodding. Calvus was set up to block the road from the north to keep Cordinus from moving to Rome, but the southern units were placed there to prevent legions from the east from crossing at Argentorate and moving north. Whichever legion gets entangled in battle, the other can move to assist- the three cohorts holding that flanking trail see to that. Calvus was set to defend from any direction- which meant he knew the fate of Clemens.

“I care little for the deployment of the legions,” Rutilius said bluntly. He was cutting to the point. “Do you know where Calvus himself is, and where he has his cavalry?”

Ulnas smiled at that, as the German nodded. They did not need to know the deployment of the legions, because none had any intention of tackling them- and foot-bound legions could not catch a two-turma band of Batavian cavalry anyway. The threat was Calvus himself, and the cavalry he commanded.

“Sextus Caelius Calvus was here in the north with VIII Augusta,” Ulnas reported. “Then, a few weeks ago, he moved his headquarters to the VII Gemina. His horsemen were here to the west of the VIIIth twelve days ago, but I have seen Pollus and three turmae coming in for resupply at the baggage trains of the VIIth before heading east. Methinks he has one ala, spread out in groups of three to five turma to his south, with but a bit to the north watching the Rhenus road.”

That matched with what the Chatti women told. If Pollus is east of the road, and Ianias and his boys to the west, and both facing south, Calvus was definitely re-orienting his forces to face a possible threat from the south.

“How well are you known to this decurion Pollus?”

Ulnas shrugged. “I’ve traded with him.”

Dieter saw what Rutilius wanted. “Ulnas, if you gave news to this Pollus, would he believe it?”

Ulnas nodded. “Aye, his family is known to mine. We are not kin, but we trust each other and talk whenever we are together. I give him news of the villages, and he provides me with news of the province as a whole. His tips help me get better prices, mine tell him where potential problems may be starting. It works well.”

Rutilius nodded solemnly. “I want you to go back to him. Leave some guards and your wagons here- Calix will help watch over them, but I need you to do the Empire a favor. Go to Pollus, and tell him the truth about Calvus. After that, he may do as he wishes.”

“And what is this truth about Calvus I am to tell him?”

“That Calvus lied to him. The boys of Germania Inferior are no threat to Vespasian, and never were. Clemens packed the XIV Gemina with men loyal to him in an attempt to usurp the office of Vespasian during his triumph, but failed. The XIVth is now in bits and pieces heading all over the empire. Troops are coming to relieve Calvus of duty for his part in the conspiracy, and Calvus is reorienting his legions to face these loyal men. Pollus is to be informed, and when sent into battle, he is to make his choice: will he follow treasonous orders, or join the loyal troops in standing by the Imperator.”

Ulnas drank that in and nodded. “Aye, if I tell him this, he will believe it. He has himself been moved from north to south, and from west to east. This movement makes perfect sense in the scenario you describe. One question, though. How much of this is truth?”

“Most of it,” Rutilius said with a grimace. “Clemens did pack his legion with traitors and wanted to take Rome, but we stopped him. The legion was disarmed peacefully, and dispersed. Calvus was to stop any help from the north- but now faces a threat from the south, thus the repositioning.”

“But the troops from the south?” Ulnas queried. “There are none, are there? That part is false.”

“Not exactly,” replied Rutilius with a wan, weak smile. “The new governor Nobilis is coming up that road with seven cohorts of infantry. He wants a battle to prove himself. I do not. Calvus thinks the I Italica is coming up the road. It is still on the Dacian border as far as I know. I have to get Calvus to stand down now, before Nobilis arrives. Thus there will only be fifty three private Guards, six lictors, and one able praetor coming from the south.”

“You have stones like melons,” the merchant said with a hearty laugh. “We Gauls admire courage, no matter the man who displays it. I shall ride to Pollus and give him your message.”

“And I and my men will do the same to Ianias,” Rutilius concluded. “And recon the position of Calvus as well. I do not like going to war without knowing how the enemy is set up, especially if I do not want a battle at all.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 02-19-13 12:08 PM EDT (US)     22 / 45       
The stones are set in motion and we shall see if Rutillus can persuade Pollis or if Calvus' tentacles are wracked deep inside his second in command. A good chapter, Terikel.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 02-26-13 01:54 AM EDT (US)     23 / 45       
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“It was the damnedest thing you ever could think to see,” said Dumnis the Gaul. “Something right out of a Druid’s tale. One minute Algus was there, the next he was gone.”

The others in the vicus inn stared nervously in their cups. They had heard of such brutal attacks in the south, but that was in Ubian lands, not here among the Cugerni. Yet each knew the attacks were getting closer. It would only be a matter of time before a merchant would come in telling of such things. And now it happened.

“We were bedded down in a farmstead burnt out during the revolt,” Dumnis continued after a deep draught from his own cup. “We had been there before, both before it was burned and afterward. Old Ildric was a decent man, and after the Frisii killed him, and themselves were killed, his stead continued to provide both lee and fresh water to those who knew of it. We and a few others still camped there before reaching the vicus here by Vetera.”

He swore softly. “Always a friendly place- but no more. The night brought death with it. We had thought ourselves safe, and thus had only four sentries on watch. That is usually enough in this part of the province, what with the legion being so close by and the cavalry patrolling so thickly. Paulus is a good man, who looks after the lifeblood of the area well. He knows that is us, but nothing- not even the entire XXIInd, could stop that thing.”

“Yes, thing, not a man,” Dumnis repeated to one who questioned him. “It struck by the light of the moon. A big hairy shadow, black as a whore’s heart. It rose up before Algus and wrapped his paws around him so quickly he had not a chance to lift his spear in defense. And then… Poof! Gone.”

“We roused the men, of course, and set out with spear and sword, and torches. Lots and lots of torches- the only thing besides some mystical weapon which could harm such a beast. Yet it escaped, and took Algus with it. When we finally retired back to our camp, we were tortured with an inhuman howling. We tried to trace it, but those woods are thicker than pea soup. We must have wandered for hours until the sun came up looking for it. We never found it.”

He nodded to his audience and lifted his goblet in accusation. “But we found Algus. He was there in the middle of our camp, this body horribly mutilated and his throat torn out. The creature had killed him, tortured him first, then snuck into camp and propped him up against my own wagon.”

Dumnis shivered. “His dead eyes… they haunt me still. So I raise this cup to my man Algus, may his soul find solace. And to you all, I give fair warning. That creature is out there. He is hunting us. And he is hungry. So if you must travel, do so by daylight, and at night let your fires burn high and bright. Maybe thus you may avoid becoming a victim of this thing, this half-man, half-beast. This were-wolf.”

The men in the inn nodded at the wisdom. They were no Romans to laugh at the old ways, nor Gauls like this one who recite tales for entertainment. They were Cugerni for the most part, Germanics, who had a healthy respect for the forest and those who dwelt within. There was something out there killing men, but they knew anything that could kill could itself be killed. They would be wise to be on their guard anywhere in the world, but especially in the forests.



The old Gaul had died well, thought the werewolf. He laughed at the term. It was fitting. He was indeed a were-wolf- a wolf among men, and a man among wolves.

He had listened to the Gauls speak to each other in the night before they foolishly left only four men awake. Four. Ha! He had killed five at once just a little while ago. The traders had talked of the dangers of the south, not realizing that the wolf they feared had moved north along with them. Now he was here, listening to their speech and figuring from it who knew what he needed to know. That made it obvious that only the older one, Algus, had ever been in the fortress and thus only he knew its layout and its secrets. So he was the one the were-wolf would take next.

The old soldier had been tough in spirit, to make up for his waning physical strength. He woke from the attack in pain, but refused to let it show. The beating was administered and endured in silence. Only when the beast had begun peeling the skin from his arms and shredding his legs with a three-pronged garden implement sharpened to a devilish edge did his spirit break. The man who was torturing him ended the suffering as promised, once he told all he knew. That three-pronged rake darted forward into his neck, one of the tongs piercing his jugular. He died in a sudden spray of blood and thus did not feel the brute dig the hand-rake into his neck again to rip his throat out.

So, that rockpile Vetera has only its three gates. No hidden entrances or exits. It was built more secure than its predecessor, but trapped those inside as a trade-off. The brute gurgled in displeasure. This made it harder.

He stood now at the edge of the forest, looking over at that blasted rockpile and its deadly garrison. Somewhere in there was the family of his prey. A woman, and a child. His prey would come for them, which means he must first travel from Rome to that rockpile, It was now a matter of waiting.

He lifted his gaze from the castrum to the river and lands beyond. That river was Father Rhein. Beyond it lay the lands of the Bructeri and the Chauci. He wondered briefly about abandoning this vendetta and simply swimming back to his homeland when night fell. It was right there, within his sight, before his eye.

He drew in a sharp breath. Blood demanded blood. The war-king had killed his brother. That demanded the death of the war-king. The brute was already cursed by his own people. They threw him down from his throne, calling him a coward and a liar. He, a lion in battle, a coward?

He turned away from the rockpile and the lands beyond. He could not go home yet. He must first find and kill the man who killed his brother. Only then, with the head of Rutilius on his saddle, would he be able to walk upright among his own with pride in his eye- the one eye Rutilius had left him when he tore out the other one.

He was in Rome and was now coming north, thus I must go to south to intercept him. One last glance at the fortress told him once the little Roman got inside there he would be invulnerable. He had to be taken on the road. He had sixty Batavians with him, though, giving the brute pause. He had a healthy respect for Batavians. Unlike the Ubian monkeys who adored the Romans, the Batavian served as equals. When they had revolted, it took eight legions to put them down.

This required more thought. He would have plenty of time to think on his way south.

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Sextus Calvus sat upon his horse, which itself stood upon a hilltop overlooking the road south. Before him were four cohorts of the VII Gemina, entrenched behind a solid turf-and-stone wall high enough to deter even the big men of the Italica, and was made even more impressive by the four-foot trench directly before the wall. The bend in the road prohibited the use of the legion’s artillery, while the steep sides of the valley walls prevented envelopment. His cavalry ala was deployed as a skirmish line before the fortifications as bait, and more. He looked over his position one more time and smiled in contentment.

There is little the Italica commander can do here, he thought to himself. His men could scale the cliffs, but then do little else except literally fall upon the blocking force. He would have to drop at least five cohorts to pin the blocking force in place. Then, with the rest, he could try to skirt east, but the bends in the river will force any flanking cohort back into this valley before his men. He could also try skirting west…

He cackled at his own ingenuity. Surely the Italica commander would try that. No Roman wanted to frontally assault another Roman position- even with twice or even thrice the manpower. It was simply throwing away men’s lives. No, he would try to flank, find the east useless, and commit to the west. He would find a trail- his cavalry would make sure of that- and follow it thinking it would lead around the blockage so he could fall upon it from the rear. But there, along that broad trail, his flanking force would be ambushed by the remainder of the VII Gemina and his supporting infantry. Should the man attack frontally anyway, the six cohorts would fall upon his flank and settle the matter quickly. His position was perfect. He could not lose.

The heavy tramp of caligae upon the road brought his attention to the front. The enemy was coming. First around the bend were two turmae of cavalry- heavy cavalry, from what he could see. And after them came a cohort of legionaries.

It began.

The cohort stopped as it came into view, but the men did not stand still. They were marching in place, then facing left, then about, then right. Calvus smiled- he knew what was going on in the enemy commander’s head. He was looking for a way around or past this obstruction. But there was none, and that cohort could not catch his cavalry. Soon it would cease its fruitless movements, and it eventually did, deploying its centuries abreast in a double line.

The German cavalry continued forward, then stopped just outside pilum range as the VIIth’s centuries raised the cry to ready pila. It backed off a few paces, then stood there.

“Sextus Caelius Calvus!” called the cavalry commander. “It is time to end this silliness. Cornelius Clemens gave you orders to prevent the legions of Germania Inferior from going to Rome. He lied when he said they would march on Rome. That was what he did with the XIV Gemina! Clemens is now dead, and his legion- your old legion- disbanded into centuries as replacements. He placed your men here to block any rescue attempt. Go home now, Calvus, and all will be forgiven.”

“He nailed it good, lord,” Menenius said to his legate. He was still having second thoughts about this whole mess. “We followed orders. None can gainsay that.”

“He lies,” Calvus sneered. “He sees our fortifications and wishes to sweet-talk us from them. There will be no clemency if any of what he says is true- and much of it is.”

The primus pilus grunted once.

“Horseman!” Calvus shouted in reply. “You spread lies to try to weaken our resolve. Tell your legate we stand fast here, as we were ordered. You shall not pass, and we shall not leave!”

“You are wrong on both counts,” the cavalry commander replied.

“Come at us and we will see who is wrong, and who is dead,” Calvus snarled. “We shall crush you!”

“I would remind you of three things,” the cavalryman retorted. “I am Marcus Rutilius Lupus, so named by the Imperator Titus Flavius Vespasianus and appointed by him as governor of Germania Inferior. I am tasked by imperial decree to aid Gaius Stilius Nobilis in assuming his duties as governor of Germania Superior. He is coming up this road as we speak. By blocking the road, you are in direct violation of the Imperator himself.”

“My orders come from the serving governor.”

Gaius Roscius, riding beside Rutilius laughed. “The serving governor is dead,” he cried to the men behind the fortifications. “His quaestor is by rights the acting governor- something you conveniently did not tell him or your men. I seriously doubt Titus Flavius Sabinus would give orders to block his uncle’s designated governor from taking office.”

Rutilius nodded, and paraded his horse before the entrenched legionaries, to ensure each man heard his words. “You men know Roscius is an arcanus. He serves Titus Flavius Vespasianus Junior directly. You also know me. Most of you served under my command when we fought at Vetera and crushed the Batavi. You remember me as acting governor for both Germanias until the Imperator could send new senators to rule. You should also remember that I was fair to all, and honorable.”

“So?” sneered Calvus.

“So if it comes to battle here, I will win. I give you my word. I would avoid bloodshed if possible, but if I must, I will defeat you in battle, I will, though it will break my heart to do so. You men know me- I do not make idle boasts.”

“I can crush your tiny force easily,” Calvus said with a laugh.

“That brings us to the second thing of which I would remind you,” Rutilius replied. ”You cannot crush that which you cannot catch.”

“My Gallic Indiana can catch you, and make short work of you at that!”

Gallorum Indiana!” Rutilius called to the skirmish line of cavalry. “It is time for you to make your decision!”

The cavalrymen shuffled and whispered, then rode forward at a gallop. Rutilius and the Batavians stood firm, while behind them, the legionaries stacked their shields before them to unlimber the staves on their backs. The staves were quickly bent and strung, presenting four hundred and eighty arrows aimed at the advancing Gauls. The arrows were not needed. As the Gauls closed, their raised their lances and slowed upon command, then formed up into turmae facing their home legion, and flanking the two turmae of Batavians. Ulnas and Ianias had indeed spread the word well.

“You were saying?” teased Rutilius. “And now I would remind you of the third item. Do you notice those legionaries behind me, the ones with bows in their hands? They are the IV cohort of the I Adiutrix. You can tell by their bows, and the rostrum on each shield.”

“So?” Calvus had little respect for the I Adiutrix.

“So they were marines,” Rutilius replied. “And my Batavians are excellent scouts. You have six cohorts away in ambush position to the west. I doubt they could get here before the I, II, and III cohorts of the I Adiutrix finish massacring your force here. The Rhenus fleet under Piscius ferried them this morning to land directly to your east. If you look up to your left, you should see Titus Sabinus- this province’s rightful quaestor and your immediate superior!- standing upon the cliff there. From that position, his boys can annihilate you, without you being able to do more than provide moving targets for him.”

Calvus looked up, and saw movement. A few seconds later he saw shields- decorated with the ship’s beak symbols of the I Adiutrix. The man before him had him pinned, and knew it.

“It is your choice, Calvus,” Sabinus shouted from the hilltop. “This is over, one way or the other. Clemens is dead, and his attempt at becoming Imperator dead with him. I know you colluded with him, but cannot and will not prove it in a trial of treason. Your legion has been disbanded, so you will report to Rome. You may be given another command elsewhere- you were following orders, after all. Your men here, if they return to their barracks, will be treated as if nothing has happened. They followed your orders, and those of Clemens, as good soldiers.”

Clemens looked at the backs of his men- so exposed in what an instant before he had thought an impregnable position. He looked back up to the men of the I Adiutrix, and thought of that brilliant ambush he had planned inland. He had been foxed, and knew it.

“Sir?” asked Menenius. His eyes were glued on the bow-wielding legionaries above, where his pila could not even hope to reach. “We’re dead meat sitting here. The offer of clemency seems genuine now, sir. Titus Sabinus could simply slaughter us all here, yet his men are holding their arrows back- at his command.”

“Maybe for you and the men,” Caelius Calvus swore bitterly, “but not for me. For me it is death by torture, to wring from my broken bones the utter truth that all involved in this horrid mess are dead. I was not even a conspirator until Clemens gave me the command.”

“Hard luck, sir,” the centurion agreed.

Calvus dismounted. There was a decision to be made, and he made it. “Give the order, Titus. Have the men stand down. Sabinus is correct- this is over.”

Then he drew his gladius. “One last favor, Titus. Strike hard, and clean. I cannot go to Rome and suffer for something of which I was no part.”

Sabinus and Rutilius had a good view of the hilltop. They saw Calvus standing proudly, then hand his sword to his primus pilus. A wash of relief flowed over them both. It was over. The centurion took the sword and Calvus fell to his knees. A second and a bright flash of moving steel in the sun later, his head rolled from his shoulders in a jet of bright, pulsating blood to roll down the hill while his body slumped forward. The centurion then cleaned the blade and replaced it in the scabbard of its owner.

“VII Gemina!” he cried, rising to face his men. “Stand down! I say again, stand down! Centurions, prepare your men for return to quarters. We are going home, lad, if the boys above and before us have no objections.”

Rutilius nodded. His voice was heavy with sadness at the useless suicide of Calvus. “No objections here, centurion, but your quaestor has the say in this province. I am merely the ascending governor of your neighboring province.”

“Gather your men, Centurion,” Sabinus cried. “And send word to your legate Manius Gellius Plautus commanding your ambush site. The VII Gemina has free passage back to its barracks.”

“And our generalis here?” he said, gesturing to Calvus.

Sabinus sighed. Blood had spilled anyway, despite the plan Rutilius had cooked up to end this without. Rutilius outranked him, but not in this province, as he said. It was his call.

“Take him with you, and give him a proper funeral,” commanded the nephew of Vespasian. “With full honors, as befitting a legatus.”

And thus was the last threat to Rome or Germania extinguished.

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|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 02-26-13 06:16 AM EDT (US)     24 / 45       
A brilliant plan of ambushing the ambush. Well done again Terikel...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 02-27-13 07:18 AM EDT (US)     25 / 45       
A good end to the Roman threat though it meant split blood.

I am intrigued at the were-wolf though. The mutilation was brutal!

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 03-05-13 01:22 AM EDT (US)     26 / 45       
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The VII Gemina escorted Rutilius to Mogontiacum under the watchful eyes of the cohorts of the I Adiutrix. Once there, they relieved the VIII Augusta, which would then escort Titus Sabinus east to the rest of his legion. A few cohorts of the VIIIth were left to augment the VIIth- these would combine with some of the replacements Nobilis was bringing to reconstitute the XIV Gemina. Another load of replacements was due in the fall, which would bring all legions up to full strength. Rutilius hoped Nobilis did not forget or put off the requisition- the Dacian border was heating up and that meant that soon they would be getting priority of supply, which in turn meant he could kiss any thought of full-strength legions good bye.

Nobilis arrived right on time a few days later. His replacements were divided up among the legions by the primi pili while he himself sauntered over to the praetoria to inspect his new abode.

“Welcome to Germania Superior,” hailed Titus Sabinus. He thrust a goblet of watered wine to his governor and introduced himself at the same time. “Titus Flavius Sabinus, your quaestor, and legate of the I Adiutrix.”

Nobilis set the tone of their relationship right there by replying, “Those foolish sea pups who wanted to be legionaries but refused legionary arms?” He laughed. “No worries, little Sabinus. We will work together to get them to forget those silly weapons and make true legionaries of them.”

“You might want to reconsider that,” commented Rutilius, who once commanded the II Adiutrix. “Those bows, when properly cared for in this climate, can be quite an edge in battle, not to mention to the morale of the troops wielding them.”

“Rubbish!” Nobilis said gaily. “We have here in this army a system that has proven itself capable of victory time and again. The auxiliaries in their little forts see the enemy and bring us word. Then the legions march out and give them a solid thrashing with first pilum, then scutum and gladius. Why change what works?”

He turned to Sabinus. “Your men want to be bowmen? To use auxiliary weapons? Then fine, lad. You have some excellent auxilia in this province. We will simply form them up into a legion and drill them as such. In the meantime, your men who wish to continue using the bow can be dispersed among the cohort forts of the auxilia with their precious bows. They can also draw auxiliary pay for using auxiliary weapons- which I believe is a drop from two hundred twenty five denarii per year to one hundred eighty eight, and serve a full twenty-five year auxiliary term instead of the legionary twenty. And when they finally retire, they will be presented with proof of Roman citizenship as their reward, instead of the plot of land allocated by the governor. In short, if they wish to wield auxiliary weapons, they may- but then they cannot expected to be treated as legionaries. ”

“Those bows put you into the governor’s chair without a battle,” Sabinus reminded him.

“Oh be real, will you, Titus?” Nobilis spat, with an accompanying sigh. “The pilum would have been just as effective in that position- you could hit them, they could not hit you.”

“So said the Surena to Crassus,” Rutilius countered. He immediately regretted it.



“That was a different situation, Lupus,” Nobilis countered. “But since you brought it up, just how many of those legionaries were felled by arrows? Hmmm? Not many. Most were starved out. Arrows wound. Pila kill. And the legions use the pilum. Sabinus, give your men the choice- they can dispense with their bows and draw legionary pay and privileges, or they may keep the auxiliary weapon and draw auxiliary pay and privileges. I have a task of ensuring your uncle that the remaining legionaries in this province are totally loyal. We will test this loyalty on the Adiutrix first. Any found lacking in utter loyalty will be transferred to the auxilia, or out of service.”

With that, Nobilis spun about and exited, leaving the two II Adiutrix veterans shaking their heads at the departing governor.

“I’ll trade you the VI Victrix for the I Adiutrix,” Marcus offered. “You know I’d let them keep their bows, and legionary status.”

Sabinus shook his head. “Gnaeus Messala would be a boon, but I doubt Nobilis would allow the trade. He comes across as a prig who likes things tidy- and he thinks legionaries should use legionary weapons and tactics. He is right- to a point. But the bow has been useful as well. Still, it is time my men forget their maritime past and begin concentrating on their primary purpose here- fighting up close and personal. With the boys across the river fighting amongst themselves now, it is going to get quite boring around here. Plenty of time to train.”

Rutilius nodded. “I’d have let them keep the bows. I like flexibility in my forces. It allows for better flexibility on the battlefield.”

“I hear you,” Sabinus said. “And agree completely. But not every general is as competent as you. For most, especially the mediocre ones, the system they know is the system they use. Marius, Caesar, Agrippa, Germanicus, Tiberius, Claudius, and Corbulo all used this style to overwhelming success, while other, less-brilliant generals managed to get by on the strength of the legion. My bows detract from that strength, which detract in turn from the strength of the army. Nobilis is right, though I dare not admit it to my men- it is time they became legionaries. I will not always be their legate, nor will we always have generals competent enough to use their abilities, and besides, the replacements coming in shun the bow. Only my veterans still use it.”

Rutilius nodded. It hurt to do so, but he did. “Make sure it is they who make the decision. And use the bit you just said about generals and their styles- it might help. If not, remind them of the problem with the replacements.”

Sabinus sighed and sank down into his chair. In doing so, the chair moved to tap the bucket behind it. This in turn reminded him of what brought him into this chamber. He rose, and picked up the bucket.

“My new postmaster found this,” he said, handing the bucket over. “Personal post for you. There are three more buckets of imperial post- it had been building up for a time now- ever since Calvus closed the road.”

Rutilius thanked him. “I will be going, now, Titus. Good luck with your speech. I for one am going to keep the bow I got from you. I earned it, by Mars!”

Sabinus grinned, remembering the archery contest. Rutilius had placed fifth of forty five hundred entrants. The top ten could keep their bows as prizes. “That you did, Marcus, that you did.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

“I hear the fool wants to pry those bows out of the hands of Sabinus’s legionaries,” said Dieter Straightback as he paced the floor of the visiting officer’s quarters he shared with Rutilius. Neither bothered to unpack their saddlebags- they would be moving on in the morning anyway. Both wanted to get away from Mogontiacum and the new ass running the place as soon as possible.

“He has his reasons,” Rutilius replied in a bored voice. His mind was not on the argument- it was on the post he was going through while his Guard commander paced like a man on edge. His father had written a seldom letter. It was full of family gossip which bored him- that his uncle had made a coup in the spice market, while a cousin had married into a knight’s family. Most of it was drivel concerning his distant First-Class cousins. Only toward the end did he mention in his laconic way the success of his own son, but then cancelled that immediately by using the entire letter as a parable that Family should come before all and that all fame was fleeting. The unspoken criticism of the death of Publius did not go unnoticed.

That was Father, he thought. Hard-ass through and through. He was no doubt proud of his war-hero son who rose from the Third Class to the Senate and was now a praetor, but he still felt it his duty to bring his son back down to earth. Claudia went unmentioned- obviously he felt the Germanic woman of no consequence. But then again, he had never met her, while he practically raised Publius. It is a shame he did not know- and could never know- that Publius was not dead.

“And?” Dieter asked bluntly.

“I am sorry,” Rutilius replied. He put the letter down. “My father wrote a rare letter. Mostly family drivel, bragging about my cousins, but he chastises me silently for the death of Publius.”

“He is a fool,” Dieter said dismissively. “His son is a better man than he could ever be, and that hurts him. He will come around. And if not, why do you care? You have entire tribes adoring you. Forget his harsh thoughts and think of our own problems, which are much greater. Will we be serving in Vetera, or in Colonia?”

“I was planning on Vetera, but now I think Colonia would be the better choice,” Rutilius said as he reached for another scroll. “Messala will be rotating back to Rome, as will Decius Paullus. Gods, they have been here for five years- far too long for legates.”

“You have been here for what? Seven years?” asked the Guardsman.

“Fourteen, but I was not always a legate,” Rutilius replied. He rolled over and opened the scroll he had picked. “Lucius Amensius might be rotating out too, but he is like I was- a legate risen from the ranks. He has no pressing senatorial business back in Rome needing his attention. So with possibly three of my four legates rotating out and an ass ruling the province south of me, it makes sense to put my remaining legate as deputy governor in the north with his legion while I rule from Colonia- between my two new legates and closer to Germania Superior if I am needed. Why do you ask?”

Dieter smiled broadly. “Heidi is a Chatti. The Chatti are closer to Colonia than they are to Vetera.”

Rutilius grinned. “I see you have your priorities straight,” he laughed. He grew quiet, then sat straight up with a start. “Decius is walking now, and speaking clearly!”

Dieter came over and looked at the scroll. The script was tiny, but clear. A woman’s hand. He knew of only three women who could enscribe Roman runes- two were not known to Rutilius, but the third was Froydis. She was writing to her husband, telling him of the events of home in order to hasten his return. An old tactic, but an effective one.

“In which language, I wonder,” the Batavian asked teasingly. The boy was a blend of German and Roman, and mothered now by another German, but one whose Latin was almost flawless. Would the boy learn first his mother’s tongue, or his father’s?

“Latin, of course,” Rutilius replied. “We speak only Latin around him.”

“And Gerd sang to him in Batavian while wet-nursing him, while his other wet-nurse sings Cugerni lullabies,” Dieter reminded him. “Your boy is going to grow up in two worlds, Marek Kingslayer, whether you want it so or not.”

Rutilius shrugged his shoulders. “So did I, whether Father wanted it or not. I turned out well, and would not be half the man I am today had it not been for both.”

Dieter cackled a laugh at that. “That is true. Had it not been for your Germanic looks and knowledge of our ways, you might have died on that battlefield by Vidar’s Altar. Twice, I might add. It is a boon to all that you survived- and continued to be fair.”

“You know,” Rutilius said suddenly, ”It would probably be easier for her to find you than you seeking her.”

“Huh?”

Rutilius put down the scroll and rose. “You want me to rule from Colonia because that is closer to the Chatti, where your Heidi lives, right? Assuming of course that she returned to her village after the episode with the Little Vixen.”

“Of course,” Dieter said, following his friend so far. Rutilius may have enjoyed his ‘gift’ physically, but he had established no personal attachment to her. Sigrun was a woman hired to satisfy his urges, and he thought of her as such- a gift from his wife for a night’s dalliance. The Batavian, on the other hand, was neither married nor considered part of Froydis’ benevolence. Heidi had been hired by the Little Vixen to side-line him with sexual favors, but he did not know that at the time. Nor did Heidi realize the depths of feelings her nights with the Guard Commander would raise within herself. They may have come together in deceit and under a blanket of subterfuge, but what they had was real to them. Or at least Dieter thought so. He had made no secret of his desire to take some well-earned leave to go find his Chatti woman and bring her back to bear his children.

“So, which do you think is easier to find?” Rutilius continued. “A widow among the tribe that lost over sixty thousand men this summer past? Or the straight-spined Guard Captain of the provincial governor?”

“She lives in the same village as Sigrun,” Dieter countered. “Goat Horn. I can find a single woman in a small village easily enough.”

“If she feels the same, you probably could,” Rutilius reminded him. “But do you know that she does? She was paid a fortune to seduce you- enough to buy herself the husband of her choice. She was an actress- and a good one to fool you once. Do not risk yourself if she is fooling you again. Besides, many others will remember a locked-back warrior who stood beside the man with the winged helm and tore the Chatti army apart piece by piece upon the field where brave Horobard fell. Going over there alone or with a small group may result in you staying there- as ashes or in a wicker cage.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“There are traders and merchants who cross the river every week. Some of them might pass close to the village of Goat Horn. Have them spread the word to your Heidi that you await her in Colonia or thereabouts. A widow can pass safely enough through our province if she is smart- did not the Little Vixen and her group prove this? Let her find you. If she does, then it was meant to be. But I will not let my Guard Captain and best friend get himself killed or worse over a love that is not true.”

“It is a true love,” he said defiantly. “This I know.”

“It is true from your side,” Rutilius agreed. “But for a love to be true, it has to be mutual, from both sides. Her side is unknown, and her words tainted by the circumstances. Let her prove her love for you by joining you here. I will even provide a horse farm for you two to settle upon, if you wish.”

Dieter thought that over. “Aye, Marek. You speak true. I shall do as you say- and send word to her through merchants. And when she comes,- and she will, by Idun’s Apples!- I want that horse-farm just north of Colonia, the one by the river.”

Marcus laughed. “It is a deal, my friend.”

With that resolved, Dieter opened a small amphora of local beer and poured two horns. He handed one to Rutilius, who resumed reading his post, while he himself settled into a couch to do his best at making that amphora dry before sleep claimed him.

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|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 03-05-13 08:55 AM EDT (US)     27 / 45       
I felt sad when the governor forced the Adiutrix to renounce their naval bows. Many a time did it save Rutillus in battle.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 03-12-13 02:12 AM EDT (US)     28 / 45       
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Colonia was buzzing with the news from the south. The legions, which had been out training but looked a lot like they were guarding the roads, had returned to their base. There was much talk about their presence in the first place- constructing fortifications here and there- not oriented to the enemy, but towards this province. And others facing south. It mattered no longer. They were gone now and the legions returned to their bases. The general consensus was that they were indeed only on an extended training exercise after all.

The traveler entering from the north gate drew some attention by the time he reached the marketplace. Most of the attention was drawn to his axe, a northern-style bearded model. It was uncommon to see such an axe in this district. Here axes were for cutting trees, and had no need of a bearded barb on the lower end of the edge. Occasionally axes could be used to cut down bandits or in battle, but they were still woodsmen’s axes for that.

The man himself was a large and unkempt warrior. He wore short but thick braids to keep his hair out of his eyes. He wore fine chainmail though, and had a decent sword belted to his waist. In that belt was a francisca as well. His face- scarred and brutal- was that of a veteran who had fought in combat. The patch over one eye testified to a dreadful wound, which he survived, marking him as a tough man as well. A mercenary, or a man looking for work as one.

His eye roamed the sides of the market. He had already taken in the crowded square of the market itself and deduced those there were but sheep. No danger. Along the southern wall, under the overhanging roof, he saw the famous Colonia Shelf. Thirty four clear glass jars lined that shelf, each the size of a bucket. The glass alone must have cost a fortune. It cost more for the contents-, at least to the thirty four men whose heads were enshrined in that gruesome display. He cursed, then laughed, then turned away to see if there was a buyer for his axe, and a seller for a spear.



The crowd eased away from him, allowing the big man an easier passage to the stalls. He found a weapons merchant and approached him directly.

“How much for this axe?” he asked in a gruff voice. He had an accent the trader thought a northern one. It fit with the axe.

“Four denarii,” he said quickly. Northerners had such fierce tempers, he had heard.

“How much for that spear?” the buyer asked, pointing his axe at a short-hafted spear with a wide steel blade-leafed point. It was a fine weapon, one which can also serve in other ways. “Trade?”

The merchant shrugged. The spear was bought for a single denarius. This was a good profit, but one cannot appear too hasty or the buyer might catch on and realize his error. “It is a Spanish blade, made of steel from Toletum. Very strong, very rare. It is worth that axe, but not more.”

The buyer had never heard of Toletum and its steel, but acted suitably impressed. Nor did the seller know anything of that Spanish town except its existence in far-away Hispana. Or of its steel, for that matter, though he had once heard two merchant guards talking about its quality. Ever since, Toletum steel had been his bargaining chip.

The buyer could care less of steel or spears or far-away Hispana. He needed a spear if he was going to fight men on horseback and that was that. Batavians always rode, and thirty of them would be coming up the road from the south shortly. Amid their protective shroud would be the man he came to kill.

“Done,” he said. He tossed the axe onto the man’s counter and accepted the spear. It was long enough for him to hide behind, and short enough that he could wield it in one hand. It could serve as a lance if needed, or be thrown. It would do.

Weapon acquired, he faded back into the crowd toward the stalls selling dried meats, and then over to those hawking dried fruits. He bought from both, then mingled a bit more before heading out the north gate again.

The marketeers and merchants let him go unmolested. They were glad to be rid of him, and not a one thought of hiring such a brute to guard their goods. Not even those who would soon be crossing the Rhenus in order to trade among the man’s savage brothers.

The hulking man did not care for any offers of employment. He looked to the south with a gleam in his eye. He had a spear, and a sword, and a horse. He needed little else. He fixed his eye on the hilltop far away. There lives Rutilius. And there he shall die. He will have thirty men with him, but so what. That rat-faced ass Burgis had sixty men with him, but he lost them all. They were convicts and deserters. Of course they would lose against Batavians. But I… I am a warrior. An unconquered warrior, and named a lion on battle. I shall succeed where Burgis the Gaul failed.

He marched into the forest to make his camp, and ponder how exactly he was going to make that happen. It would not be a stupid frontal assault as had Burgis. Nor would the were-wolf trick work again, not against Romanized warriors. He must be cunning like the wolf, but patient like the bear if he were to succeed. Thus he must wait.

It will not be long now.

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“That’s odd,” said Dieter as he looked up at the small fortress looming over them on the hill above. They had spent a week helping Nobilis get set in his province- a horrible affair due to the man’s innate sense of superiority and equally strong obstinacy- but mostly helping Titus Flavius Sabinus get the hang of being a quaestor. Now they were on the road to Colonia, and just about to view the town itself when Dieter looked up.

“What is odd?” asked Rutilius. He too was looking at the fortified house above- his house. He was almost home. “Someone put a lot of work into clearing the slope from the road to the house, but the small cliff they created makes it impossible for anyone to come through the woods like before- or to flee the same route without breaking their legs.”

“Not that,” Dieter smirked. It has been his own suggestion to the Guard Commander of governor Cordinus to do something about that weak spot. Evidently the Samnite took his duties to heart. The slope of run-off from between the two cliff-faces was removed and the gully filled to horse-head in height. “Look at the standard. The elephant of Cordinus no longer flies.”

Rutilius sharpened his gaze to where the little green square should be hanging from its cross-pole. It was not there.

“That is odd,” Rutilius replied. “But I do like the way the men of Cordinus thinned out the forest, and even put up a little tower to watch over the back quarter.”

Dieter shifted his gaze and picked out the tower among the trees. “Well sited,” he added. “Hidden from casual view, yet has sight over the road and back woods. Clever.”

“Cordinus takes his security seriously,” Dieter said flatly, eliciting a small laugh from his lord.

“So would you if you had been stabbed and poisoned during your tour,” Amalric added dourly. He too took security of his liege more than seriously. The debacle at the farm near Argentorate still plagued him, though it did not seem to bother the other two.

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The road split at the town gates. One path led directly into the town, while another well-used path hooked sharply to the left to begin the ascent toward the house on the hilltop a few miles away. There was a line of trees on one side of the road- the western side, which shaded the road in the morning and noon, but left it open to view from the house in the afternoon. It also obscured the road itself from view from the Rhenus Road. Cordinus had taken his security very seriously indeed. Rutilius wondered if the man had turned out Claudia’s people in his paranoia, despite the man’s promise to let them remain in their homes while he was in residence. The thought left him cold.

He approached the gates with a veil of dread cloaking him. There were Batavian Guards at the open gate- a welcome sight. They greeted their lord with swords raised in salute before returning to their post by the side of the gates.

In the courtyard awaited a surprise that ripped the cloak of dread from his shoulders and cast it flaming and screaming into the flames of forgetfulness. The Main House was before him across from the courtyard, and there on the portico, flanked by two sturdy Batavians, stood his family. Froydis, his wife, with her hair pinned back behind her ears with those lovely ivory combs he gave her, knelt before the door. Standing beside her on wobbling legs, was a tiny blonde boy who held her hand tightly but wore a smile that threatened to split his small face.

“Tata!” the boy screamed when he saw the first rider enter the square. The boy pulled free of the woman and half-fell, half crawled down the stairs. Once he hit dirt, he thrust his little butt into the air then pushed up with his arms until he regained his balance on wobbly legs. A few unsteady steps later, he was in the arms of the man who dismounted quickly at the boy’s first move.

“Hello son,” Rutilius said as he hugged his firstborn. Pride filled his eyes and soul as he realized Decius had recognized him despite his long absence, spoke to that effect, and came under his own power to him. Nothing could wash away that good feeling of watching his baby run to him. A few seconds later Froydis was there to double that pleasure. Before she could take the boy away she too was drawn into the hug. Then Traudl rushed forward to remove the boy before he could be crushed against the armor of his father. Rutilius used the opportunity to kiss his wife deeply, a greeting worthy of a man who loved his wife and had not seen her in months. “Hello, wife.”

“Do not squeeze so hard, Marek,” Froydis said as her lips parted from his long seconds later. She smiled as she patted her swelling belly. “Or you will squeeze out our child before his time.”

Marcus grunted once and released his wife to admire where their child was growing firm and strong, then wrapped his arms around her shoulders and drew her close for another kiss. He was home, with his family. His growing family.

Dieter dismissed the Guards to the barn and then their quarters while he swept up the loose reins of Rutilius’s horse, forgotten in the joyful moment. A man’s reunion with his wife was a private affair. Besides, with his Milika laying in her grave sixty paces away and Heidi somewhere across father Rhein, there were none her to give him such a greeting. His heart ached once at his lord’s joy, but he nodded once to himself as he vowed that once day he, too, would experience that joy, with his own family. A tear formed, which he wiped quickly away. In doing so he noticed three horses over by the corral, and recognized them. He would hand the horses to another Guard then go see what Claudius Victor had to say. He had no doubt the lord’s Chief Steward was hidden away in the barn, to allow Rutilius his family reunion uninterrupted.

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Dinner that evening was a festive affair. Rutilius sat at the head of the long Germanic table, with Froydis at his side. Beside her sat Amalric, while Claudius Victor and Glam occupied the places across from her to the right of Rutilius. Dieter, as Commander of the Guard, sat at the other end of the table, with the rest of his officers surrounding him. Traudl and the new maid Henrika served the food prepared by dead Martha’s successor Bertha. She made meat pies worthy of Martha herself, with the flaky crust just soft enough for a knife to slide through without breaking.

Rutilius had already taken care of business, having spent the first hours home in the master bedroom with his wife, and the following hours discussing his holdings and their states with Claudius Victor. Young Eirik was being tutored by a Roman businessman on numbers and oratory and by Batavian nobles in swordcraft and horsemanship. He received regular loads of work to do from his Roman tutor- prepare an essay on Aristotle’s teachings to Alexander of Macedon, for example, or to figure the tithes due Rome for the farm’s eighty bushels of apples sold to the legion commissary- and little time to write them from his Batavian teachers who were succeeding in bringing his battle skills up to their high standards.

“So, Dieter,” Glam called to his commander, “what do you think of the new Guardsmen?”

Dieter forked in a mouthful of the beefy pie and shrugged. “They seem alright at first glance, but they are not Batavians.”

“Oh, but most are,” Amalric chimed in. “When Lady Froydis heard that Cordinus was leaving early for his new province, she packed up the house and moved back into this one. Tiberius Labeo gave her forty men from his Guard as an escort, to leaven the eighty Cugerni, Ubians, and Tungrians she herself had hired. There are even a few of those Cananefate in the mix as well. And fifty more boys from our tribe joined up as well. Add that hundred seventy to our fifty and the forty lads we left to watch over her and little Decius, and we have almost nine turmae in the Guard now- more than half of them our lads.”

“They are all our lads,” Claudius Victor wheezed between mouthfuls of the delicious tart. “At least they are now.”

Rutilius nodded to Claudius Victor. If he was going to run this province fairly, he had to consider all inhabitants as his people, with no favoritism being shown to a man because of his tribe of origin. And his Guard would have to reflect that as well. Froydis had done well in staffing the Guard with a good mix of men of all tribes from the province.

“When exactly did Cordinus roll out?” Rutilius asked. “I had yet to formally relieve him and receive his briefing.”

“The fleet that crossed Sabinus sent a ship downriver,” Claudius Victor said in that hoarse voice of his. “Piscius wanted Cordinus to know of the battle, in case you lost or needed help. A day later he was gone.”

“Typical Cordinus, fleeing the field like a bunny fleeing a wolf,” Glam mumbled. But surprisingly, Claudius Victor rose to the man’s defense.

“I do not think so,” the chief steward said gruffly. ”He first sent word to Messala and Amensius to move on Mogontiacum, so they could assist Marek if needed. Then he headed off to Gaul to rally the auxiliaries there- his legion was detached, remember, in order to bring more forces onto the flanks of the Bald Man Calvus. When we heard Calvus’s death cry and the meek footy-falls of the Seventh Eagles toward their home, Messala and Amensius returned to their castra and Cordinus kept going to his new station.”

“And that was when my family decided to come surprise me by being here when I was to report in,” Rutilius completed, to the nod of Claudius Victor. “A man cannot think of a better welcome. I had expected Cordinus and his pomp, and find instead my lovely bride and our son.”

“I am pleased that my husband found our surprise to his liking,” Froydis added with a glowing smile.

“I had never seen a woman pack so fast as when she was told of the death of Calvus,” one of the newer officers at the table said. “The messenger had barely relayed the news to the Eagle battle chief when she was in motion. An hour after she was ready the Guard was ready to move, too.”

“We had not much to pack,” she replied modestly. “Both my husband and I travel light.”

“And you had help from the Eagles,” the officer allowed. “While we had but ourselves and had to gear up our horses as well.”

“I am very glad for the effort,” Rutilius admitted. “This was a much better welcome than I had expected. And a lovelier one, too.” This last was accompanied by a Cananefate wink to his Cugerni wife, who blushed a Cherusci red.

“Tonight we feast, my lords, and tomorrow we recover,” he added. “For the day after, I will be running you men ragged as I intend to visit each and every village in this province. No hetman will go unknown, no tribe shall be passed by, and every man-be he Roman or Germanic- will know that this will be a properly run province and that ‘justice for all’ is not just a collection of words. We have tithes to collect, assizes to make, courts to hear, and I must take over all the nasty and boring tasks Cordinus did for us. He had a quaestor. I do not, at least, not yet. Until I am granted one or promote one of the tribunes, I have to run this entire province from the saddle of my horse. And many of you will regret teaching me to ride like a Batavian. This I promise you.”

A rousing cheer followed his proclamation, as well as a few challenges made in good faith. No matter where he led, they would be at his side- and in better shape than he.


After dinner was another session, this time with just Claudius Victor, Dieter, and Rutilius. It was a quick one, just a summary of the tasks Rutilius had laid out at dinner and their advice as to the planning and manpower needed. It was settled quickly.

“Have you seen these new recruits?” Dieter asked of the steward. Claudius Victor nodded.

“Good men, for the most part. I trained them for a while, before turning them over to Atle Strongarm, the officer you left in charge of the Home Guard when you took Marek to Romeburg. They are good men, Deets. As good as any man who ever served under Steinar Strongarm. Some of them are just kids- but good ones. Eager, and more important, loyal. Each of them owes Marek for something- a home on one of his farms, or a fair deal in the courts, or just the simple good peace he brought after our revolt. Status quo antebellum- a much, much better peace than we defeated Batavians had ever thought possible. Tiberius Labeo loves him, and so do our people. The Cugerni and Ubians and Tungrians as well- they consider him kin. And you already know how the Cananefate feel about him. Every tribe feels the same. Including the Romans.”

“Not all Romans love our man,” Dieter said sullenly. Then he grinned. “But that number is dwindling, now that he is on first-name terms with the Eagle King.”

With that, he and Claudius talked about the episode in Romeburg while Rutilius retired to read his mail, and the notes left by Cordinus before packing off to bed early. The two Germanics let him go- he would be busier than a one-toothed beaver building a dam in a flood the coming weeks, and would have little enough time to enjoy his wife properly. But tonight, he would have that time. The last time for a long while.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 03-12-13 11:17 AM EDT (US)     29 / 45       
Excellent as always Terikel. A nice family scene...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 03-15-13 07:00 PM EDT (US)     30 / 45       
Indeed, a nice family scene. Makes a change from the guts and glory!

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 03-16-13 03:50 PM EDT (US)     31 / 45       
I prefer the epic battles though...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 03-17-13 04:48 AM EDT (US)     32 / 45       
Family and friends are what people fight for in those epic battles. Many might think God and country, ideals and freedom, but when it comes down to putting steel into the other guy and avoid him doing the same to you, it is your mates at your side and the comfort of loved ones at home that give you the fortitude to face down those angry men with swords and and stich your own steel into their guts.

Besides, epic battles tend to be final. One side is usually destroyed, leaving very little to dissuade the victor from accomplishing his task afterward.

Sadly, there are no more epic battles forthcoming in this series- though there will be a fight or two. We are in the downhill slide now, wrapping up loose ends, and ending the series over the next two or three installments. But that does not mean there will not be a surprise or two in the works...

So stay tuned.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 03-17-13 01:07 PM EDT (US)     33 / 45       
It's a pitty this epic story is near its end However, all stories have to end. I just hope we see more interesting stories from you, Terikel...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 03-19-13 03:49 AM EDT (US)     34 / 45       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Marcus finally finished reading what Cordinus had left for him. He stood up, with only a slight quiver betraying the unpleasantness of what he had read and retired toward his bedroom. He stumbled in, but stopped abruptly as he took in the scene before him.

The bedding had been changed since the afternoon romp, and the scent of stale sex removed with it. Clean linens- of Egyptian flax, no less, were on the bed. Froydis had her hair down now, framing her face in a rolling halo of wheaten honey, and making her eyes look exceptionally large and purple in this light. It was enough to thoroughly raise his desire; she did not need to let the sheet slip to expose her breast. The forlorn and somber mood shrouding him evaporated as he stepped nearer to this lovely woman. He loosened his armor and let it fall to the floor, then divested himself of his other garments to join her.

No thought more of what he had read dared interfere with his consciousness at this moment. This was a time for only a man and his wife.

Only afterwards, as they lay in each others’ arms a few hours later, did those nagging thoughts come back.

Veleda had been spotted near Vetera. The man who saw her was one of the few men who guarded old Civilis and was still alive. He was not sure, at first, but later recounted that it had to have been her. The Witch of the Revolt still lives, and is on our side of the river. Beware!

A slave who escaped from a latifundium south of Mogontiacum in Germania Superior has been tracked by dogs and the trail of bodies he left into our, now your, province. I did not think anything of this bit of trivia, dear Marcus, but he left a survivor alive. The woman pretended to be dead, and the brute assumed she would stay that way. Before and during his repeated rapes of the woman, he grilled her as to your whereabouts. Yours, not mine. That makes it personal. I had thought it funny at first- a Germanic hunting you of all Romans, but after seeing for myself the shape he left the poor woman in, I no longer see the jest. He is a brute, this one, and means you harm. Be on your guard, my friend.

Froydis felt his the tenseness of his body despite her best efforts to relax him. She did not know the cause, but still something disturbed him. She held him closer and purred contently against him. She drifted off to a contented sleep, while her man tossed distraughtly until sleep finally found him too.

It was no good sleep, despite its depth. His dreams were a stage for his memories to play across. He was in the marketplace of Noviomagus, seeing Froydis for the first time. Salvius was by his side, gawking at a Gallic redhead, while he himself was admiring the quiet way his future wife was putting down a heated argument. Then he was stabbed, and when the legion doctors would have killed him with their arts, she had taken over and healed him. Then he was riding the brown blaze-faced horse killed years ago. It was a fine horse, strong and swift, and the forest was open despite its age. Or maybe because of it. He was not sure. The road ran through it, and he felt the presence of a turma of eastern cavalrymen behind him. Then death came.



Like in the dream of the marketplace, he saw then felt the steel enter his body. He had heard talk once of philosophers saying when a man dies in his dream, he dies in his waking life as well. Horseshit. This was the second time this night that he felt- physically felt- steel puncture his body with mortal force. He fell from his horse, then looked up.

The memories took hold of him. Froydis was kneeling astraddle his body, staunching the blood from an angry wound to his chest. He knew it was her- he knew her touch intimately now- yet here she was desperate, if not intensely adamant about him living through his dire wound. She was not the wheaten blonde holding his tortured body in the waking life, but the face, and those eyes, were identical. Only the ragged, tousled haze of black hair adorning her head was out of place. She was gripping his face in her hands, demanding in German that he live- live, and remember.

Remember what? His body was wracked with pain, yet the dream held him fast in its grip. And then he was free, and awake.

His eyes flew open.

He rolled over to face his woman, his love. He found her sitting on the side of the bed, fully dressed, and a tear falling as her eyes picked up the expression of anger and betrayal on his face.

“You know,” she said simply.

He nodded in the near-darkness. The sky outside was light enough to allow some of its light to burn through the curtains meant to block it, yet the light was but a dim, eerie glow permeating the room. She felt more than saw his nod.

“The letter from Cordinus?”

He shook his head. “The one to Cerealis.”

She nodded. She had written that note in her own hand, copying what she saw in a vision. She had sealed it with his own seal, loaned from Claudius Victor back when Rutilius was scouting the Bructeri lands. She knew at the time that it would cause this moment, but she had to take the risk. “I acted hasty there, but saw no other way to save you.”

He sat up, causing her to move away from him. He noted a sense of fear in her haste. The feeling was distasteful.

“Why?” The word came out more like a croak than a sound from a human throat, but he had way too many emotions running through him to care.

Froydis stood up. Destiny was closing in upon her, stifling her vision to produce a single moment of choice with no guidance. Her fate was no longer her own- it was now in the hands of another. His. “You have a decision to make, lover.”

“I do not understand.”

Froydis sighed. She had thought him smarter than this, but knew he knew. He wanted her betrayal spelled out for him, in order to accept all that happened in its perspective. He needed evidence to process, not just his own imagination and logic.

“I see things, Marek,” she explained. “I cannot help it, though sometimes I can concentrate and see what I need to see. Or want to see. Sometimes the visions are like a play- in living color, with sounds. These always come true. Others are without sound, or without color- like watching an event by the light of the moon. These can come to pass, or not, depending on the actions of those involved. And others are fleeting images, a memory of something past. It can be quite confusing.”

She could see his mind reeling now, and his emotions boiling through confusion and anger and betrayal- and love. There was still hope.

“I usually see nothing concerning myself,” she said. “But I can see much of those I am close to, or touch. Your little minx Katja, my niece, has much of the same power. That is why she let you live when my sister wanted you dead. She knew I was no threat to her mother, or herself, or to the tribes. That was why she said what she said to the Chatti whores you so thoroughly enjoyed. And I did not feel jealous or betrayed when I saw that, my lover. It was all part of the grand scheme the gods have for us.”

He blushed at the memory. He knew then that she was no charlatan, no witch, or simple fortune-teller. Only the few Guards who had been with him in Argentorate knew of the whores, or what they had said of Katja’s parting words- and none of them had spoken of it since. They would not- as it may get their lord in trouble with his wife. Yet Froydis knew, and in detail as well. She was indeed a supernatural woman. She was indeed Veleda, the Bructeri seeress. She had hidden from Roman view by secreting herself into the heart and bed of the one Roman who could have found her- would have found her, when he carried out the Imperator’s directive to capture her and bring her in chains before him. All she had needed to do was bleach her hair and wear normal garments and she was no longer Veleda, Queen of the Bructeri, but Froydis of the Cugerni… She might not even have had to bleach her hair- a simple washing out of the charcoal dust that had blackened her natural hair would have been enough to make her invisible to searching eyes. But he would have found her, eventually. She had to know that, thus the masquerade.

She laughed. “My fate is not to die in chains as a curiosity before your Eagle King. I may appear before him- this I have seen in the moonlight eye- but I was not in chains then, nor will iron cuffs ever mar my skin. That I do know. My fate is different, and totally up to you. Know this, Marcus Rutilius Lupus, I love you with all my heart. I have ever since you came to me in a vision after the Twins decided to murder you. We are soul-mates, you and I. I walked away from you once- when you married Claudia. I spoke to her that night, and told her this truth. Veleda has seen this future- I will indeed find true love, after a period of deep sorrow and much pain. Well, lover, I felt that pain when you married her, and was very sorry. I watched her death break you apart, and felt the depths of your love for her. Yet for all its power and depths, the love you two shared as not a true love. A true love would have saved her, like it may me.”

The mention of his dead wife brought him out of his turmoil like a snake striking. He lunged up. “You knew she would die, did you not? You could have saved her, yet did nothing.”

Veleda shook her head. “It does not work like that. I knew that there was danger coming, but no specifics. I also knew that a true love could save her. It did not, thus the love you shared was not true. I am sorry for her loss, Marcus. She was a good woman, but nothing could have saved her. The gods removed her from you to make room for me. Now they remove me from you… To make room for Sigrun? Maybe. You shall hurt, lover, but you will recover. And both Rome and the tribes will prosper because of your choice. But the visions- they are moonlight views. They are not set in stone like those in color with voice, like when you were to die upon the road to Saturninus. I managed to save you there, but barely. I upset the will of the gods then, and thereafter found the joy other visions promised as your wife. Now I must pay for the pain I caused you, but do so willingly. You are still alive to feel that pain.”

“What do you know of true love, witch?” he asked bitterly. “You have played me for your own ends, toyed with me like a cat with a mouse, and watched as my family was slaughtered- maybe even caused it, for as far as I know.”

Froydis-Veleda- rose. “I know true love, and the pain it can cause. I have that pain now, watching my true love reject me in his turmoil. I had naught but respect for Claudia Sacra, and wished her well. I would remind you that you chose her to be your wife. I did not. I knew that your wife may not last long, whoever she may be. You did me a favor, Roman, when you chose her. You spared my life then. Too bad you condemn me now. We could have had something wonderful.”

“We would have had something built upon deceit, Bructeri,” he hissed bitterly. “Deceit seems to run in the royal blood of your tribe. I am so glad I helped Segestes assume the throne there- he would bring honor back to your tribe.”

“What we have was built up honestly,” she replied in a low whisper. “And I too am glad a man like Segestes is now king.”

She picked up a small sack that she had earlier stuffed under their bed. A small pack of food, a knife, some trinkets. And her ivory combs, lost when she had fled her tower, but recovered by the man who defied the twins Udo and Ulfrich to rescue them.

“You have a decision to make, lover,” she repeated. “I am going out that door now. Think over what has been said this night, or early morning. You will always be in my heart, as I am in yours.”

And then she was gone.

Marcus let her go. He wrestled within himself, twisting and turning on the bed that now he alone occupied. Was it to be this way forever? Were all he loved doomed to die, or be driven away? Was he to be alone, because his love invariably killed those he loved?

He already made one decision. He would ignore the directive of Titus Flavius Vespasianus. He would look for Veleda, but never find her. She was correct in that- she would not stand before him in iron bracelets- at least, not by his hand. She had saved his life three times now- he would save hers once. She was free to go, and to take his broken heart with her.

He rose. It was a mechanical matter to dress- his mind was on his problems. Even his chainmail shirt went on without thought- so deep were the routines of his life. Armor- covering his heart from prying eyes, and his body from prying blades. He snorted. Froydis did not just notice things- she knew where to look, and what it meant.

He reached for his sword- the long blade he had taken from Udo’s corpse. Doubtless she knew exactly how he had gotten it- she had probably seen it. He belted on his dagger- she had not asked about it, because she already knew.

Damn it! The woman Rome demanded punished for the Batavian revolt just walked out of his door, and he had let her go. He was now a traitor, but was strangely at ease with that. It was the rest of the baggage train that tore him to pieces.

He stumbled out of his chamber and into the hallway. He could see through the window there the statues of his dead family below. He knew the face of Claudia was carved to stare down and forward, yet he could not help but see her now, with her stony face turned toward him, and a burning glare in her eyes. He blinked, and saw that his eyes had been playing tricks on him. Claudia’s head was still looking forward, her eyes invisible from this angle. Yet he remembered the accusing look. Was it because he failed her, or because she knew what he had done. Or was it… disapproval?

He shook his head to clear it. It did not work. Mumbling to himself, he lurched down the stairs and out the front door to stare into the empty courtyard of his home. He had half-expected to see Froydis standing there, awaiting him. She had not. The courtyard was bare.

Dieter came out the door behind him, two horns of beer in his hand.

“Here,” he said gruffly as he sat down on the little bench adorning the portico. It was the only fixture there. “Drink.”

“It is a bit early for beer,” Rutilius replied. The sun had risen, but barely.

“Or late, depending on your point of view,” the German replied. He drained his own horn and belched loudly. “I have been up all frikkin night, so to me this is a late beer. Or was.”

“Veleda?” Marcus croaked. His throat was suddenly constricted. A sip of the beer helped sooth the sudden dryness.

“Gone,” Dieter replied. “Idiot.”

Marcus spun toward his Guard Commander so quickly he almost spilled his horn. “You knew?”

“Claudius Victor told me last night,” Dieter said with a nod. “But I figured as much by myself. She was very good at noticing things, too good.”

“You knew, or suspected, and you said nothing of this to me?” Rutilius roared.

Dieter ignored the man’s rage. “She has saved your life at least three times now, and posed absolutely no threat to you. My interest in her went no further than that. Why should I care what she did in a former life? I once tried to kill you myself, back when we were at war. But we are at war no longer, and I count you among my best friends. So does she. She loves you, you idiot, and you let her walk right out of the gate and right out of your life. For what? Because she once advised Civilis? I fought for the man, and slew scores in his name. Because she ordered the slaughter of the two legions? Horseshit and cowflops. That was Ulfrich, on his own. You know that as well as I do. She is no more your enemy than I am.”

“How do you know?” Marcus asked. His voice was so low it was almost a whisper. “She might have been working her way into my heart in order to slay me when Rome needs me most. She would have seen that, and prepared for it. I cannot trust her. And with no trust, there is no happiness, or love.”

“Hel’s Half-White Face, man!” Dieter roared back. “Had she wanted you dead and the province conquered- all of the Empire north of the Alps, in fact- all she had to do precisely nothing. You would have taken us, the auxilia, and the Cananefate across the river and died gloriously but uselessly there. It was she who saw that your letter to Cerealis would end up with Cordinus in the camps by the Sacred Grove, and it was she who told the Frisii where to meet you. Those extra five thousand warriors really helped out, did they not? Had she not acted to save your ass, and mine too, we would all be dead. So no, Marcus, I do not think she had a hidden motive. She had her chance to destroy you and all Roman power north of the Alps, and did everything she could to prevent that. She loved you dammit, and you spurned her!”

“So you think I am stupid?”

“You let the love of your life walk away. No, you drove her away. Of course I think you are stupid! Claudia was a wonderful woman, Marek, but she is dead. Nothing and no-one, not you, not me, not Veleda, could have stopped that. It was her wyrd, the moment you chose her as your wife. It could just as easily been Veleda who was slain here, and her statue decorating your garden. Yet you were lucky, you moron. You found another such love as you had with Claudia. Few men are so lucky. I am not one of them. But you are. And you threw it away. Idiot!”

Marcus sagged against a column of the portico. “You are right, my friend. I have been stupid. I care not what she did before we met, and she has been nothing but a loving woman and wife since we met. But Rome wants her, and will find her if she stays as my wife. I let her go to give her her freedom, that she may live.”

“What a crock of shit,” Dieter fumed. He was getting seriously angry now, an effect of being up most of the night since Claudius Victor woke him with the news, and words he was to say. It was playing out just as he was told- proof that Veleda had seen this very confrontation. She was indeed the real deal when it came to prophecy. But those final words he was told not to say… They burned in him, but he saw now the truth behind them. He could talk to Marcus of the past, but he must not mention the future. It had to be the decision of Rutilius.

Rutilius sighed deeply, then stood tall. He had a decision to make, she had told him. And now he made it.

“Fetch my horse,” he said. “And a spare.”

Dieter smiled and whistled. Claudius Victor came out of the barn leading three horses.

“You are making a wise decision, Marcus,” he wheezed He handed over the reins.

“You put my bow on my horse,” Rutilius noted. “How do you know that I am not going to hunt the little bitch down and kill her?”

“You would have ordered Dieter to arrange a patrol, had that been the case. Asking for your horse and a spare meant you are going after her to bring her back to your home, as a man does for the woman he loves.”

“I really hate her powers,” Marcus mumbled as he mounted. “But in this case, she is saving us time.”

“Her powers made you rich, and the world a better place by keeping you in it,” Claudius Victor replied with a broad grin. “I cannot fault this. Or did you really think I am a financial genius? All I did was go where she pointed me and looked for what she said to look for. And in doing so, we built a financial empire for you and cared for our people who needed it.”

Marcus waited until his steward mounted before asking, “How long have you known?”

Claudius Victor smiled broadly again. “Since I first laid eyes on her. Or have you forgotten that I too was a chief advisor and warchief to my royal cousin Civilis? I saw her every bloody war council, with that charcoal shit in her hair. She did not like Civilis, but she gave him good advice. He might even have won, had he listened.”

Marcus shook his head. Such power! “I cannot let her ‘advise’ another rebel. If she will not come home, then I must do my duty and kill her myself. She was right about one thing, though. I will not see her in chains before my Imperator.”

“She has a three hour head start and runs fast,” Claudius retorted. “Stop talking nonsense and let us find the love of your life. You will see for yourself if the love you two still share is as true as those arrows of yours. I killed the worm who made them, by the way. He was a spy, and intent on doing you harm. I snapped his neck like a twig. Veleda was there when I did it. I told her I would do the same to her should she intend you harm. She nodded, as if she knew the truth of what I say. And I knew the truth of her answer when she replied she would never intend you harm. You may have enemies, my lord, but Veleda is not among them.”

Rutilius and Claudius Victor started their horses down the hill towards town. As they approached the road, Claudius suddenly stopped. “We should skirt the town to the west.”

Rutilius thought for a moment, a difficult task with his mind still in shock. But he knew his steward was correct. Veleda had touched him after he had read the note of Cordinus. She would know she had been spotted, and know to avoid the town as a risk. The man who talked to Cordinus might talk to others. There was still a hefty reward to be had for the man who brought her to the Romans… Or at least any Roman authority whose name was not Marcus Rutilius Lupus. She would likewise avoid the main roads, and anywhere to the south. She would head north, through the forest, and try to cross back to her homelands by means of the ford where she had joined his merchant caravan.

Then again, Claudius might be saying this because she told him where to go. Rutilius had no idea of anything anymore.

“Follow your heart, Marek,” Claudius Victor said, as if reading his friend’s thoughts. “It will lead you to her.”

“You seem bloody sure it wants her,” Rutilius mumbled.

Victor cackled. “That is one of the few things I am sure of, Marek. Your heart yearns for her. Even a maimed wardog like me, inured to pain and hardness, can feel it. I am not so sure of your head, but your heart.. Aye, my friend, I can see that clearly.”

“To the woods, then.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 03-19-13 11:07 AM EDT (US)     35 / 45       
So Froydis was Veleda. *whistles*

Epic swerve, Terikel. Epic swerve.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 03-19-13 05:07 PM EDT (US)     36 / 45       
I have to admit that even though there were some hints in previous parts, I was taken completely by surprise. Let's see if Marcus finds Veleda before Ulfrich finds him...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 03-26-13 09:28 AM EDT (US)     37 / 45       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Froydis was padding quickly through the forest. She was not running, yet, but she was not dawdling either. Her fate was unclear, and that both scared her and thrilled her at the same time. She had not lied when she told Marcus she saw little when it concerned herself. But she had seen two or three possible fates. One was approaching quickly. As in her Vision, she was padding through the deep forest with a pain in her chest. She was doing that now. After that, no visions at all. She knew what that meant. Her fate was beyond her control now. This was a penalty from the gods, for interfering with the fate of Rutilius on that autumn day when he was to be murdered. The fates of many had to be rewritten after that rash and pivotal act, and the gods take poorly to extra work thrust upon them by a mortal upstart using their gift.

Going into town was foolish. That she did see clearly. There was a man there, who had talked to Cordinus. He had seen her on a rainy day, when her shawl was up over her head to keep out the rain. He could not see her hair, only her face, and he had recognized that face. He was still in town, though would be dead by morning when he choked on a bone in his stew this evening. Had he seen her in town this day, he would have had her arrested to earn a reward which he would spend on a steak in celebration, thus living to see the morning at her expense.

Likewise the roads were dangerous. She knew from Avitas and Cordinus that there was a predator along the roads, which had increased the patrols of auxilia cavalry. Among those patrols were men who would not hesitate to hassle a woman traveling alone. Hazards were so easy to avoid when one knew of them ahead of their passing.

That left her the forest, and her coming destiny. She knew from her visions that a major event was coming. She could feel it. But its course, how it would play out- that was still as dark as a winter midnight with no moon. All she knew was that she would come upon a tree split by the wind soon, and there it would happen. What, she did not know. Only that it was by that tree that true love would save her, or her past would catch up to her. After watching the reaction of Marcus this past night, she thought the latter. It would serve her right, and fulfill her mother’s words. Her powers, once awoken, would eventually destroy her. Young Froydis had laughed then, and begged her mother to awaken the Powers in her as she had in her older sister Hanneli. She had seen Hanneli- who took the witch-name ‘Halla’- become famous through the tribes and she wanted that fame and adoration as well.

Now she laughed to herself for her folly. Halla was disgraced, while she herself was a hunted wolf in a Roman forest. Katja had no doubt inherited the powers from her mother- and made better use of them than ever Halla could. She was of her blood, and a survivor. She would lay low and rise on her own merit far from Rome, assume the witch-name of ‘Vosje’, and raise a horde of children by several kings. She would be a prize and her children likewise prized. Her firstborn would always be her favorite. Veleda sobbed, knowing why. ’Little Vixen’ is a very appropriate name for her!

Musing as she was, she did not notice where she was. She was heading north back to her homeland, but the wind-torn tree before her was too sudden, too soon. She was not prepared for the moment she knew was coming. She heard the heavy footfalls through the blanket of leaves a moment before a rough hand grabbed her shoulder to spin her around and slam her against the bole. She need not look up, but she did, and smiled.



It was as she had seen, her moment of truth. Her visions ended here. Her future from here was unknown, an exciting thought. She enjoyed a moment of total ignorance for the first time since she was a child.

“Hello, Ulfrich,” she said with a smile.

The one-eyed giant before her stopped abruptly in shock. He squinted his eye to be sure, noticing the strange blonde hair in place of what should be a raven thatch. But it was indeed her. The Witch. He laughed heartily.

“Veleda,” he shouted. He placed his forearm across her throat to pin her to the tree. “It has been a long time, witch, but I have you at last. I forgive the gods the cruel tricks they played upon my brother and I, now that I can destroy two foes with one dagger.”

Her smile never ceased, that haunting, playful, all-knowing smile. It infuriated him more than her words ever could.

“I shall kill you, witch,” he sputtered. “And after doing so, kill Rutilius as well. But first, woman, I shall take from you what you boasted you would give no man.”

His free hand began untying the knot of rope holding up his pants. He had wanted this woman long before she had spurned him with her haughty laughs. Not man enough for her? A failure? He would take his pleasure from her and leave her broken and begging for more.

As his own pants fell to mid-thigh, he began ripping open her cloak. It was not easy with one hand, yet the fabric was held closed by a single button. It parted from its base with a pop, to reveal her frock. He could see the pert breasts he admired so much pressing against the taut cloth, and more, he could see the swollen abdomen of a woman midway through her pregnancy.

Something clicked inside him, enraging him. No man was good enough for her? Then who put her with child? Wotan? She had lied, the bitch. There was a man good enough for her- the man who killed his twin, who broke his tribe’s power. The man whose woman was now at his mercy. Rutilius.

And her smile had still not faded. Verily, it grew wider, as if she could read his thoughts.

His member grew flaccid at the thought of the Roman besting him in this as well as everything else. His anger returned, doubled. He caught up his folding trousers with the hand that had held her pinned against the trunk and lifted his dagger with the other hand. This ends now, forever!.

He raised the dagger above his head. He wanted to see fear in her eyes at her impending doom. He wanted to see the famous witch flinch. To fear him. Yet she did not. She stood there calmly, smiling, infuriating him, as if daring him to follow through. Oh, he would! The only consolation he felt was that she moved half a step back, away from the tree.

Ulfrich took half a step forward. His arm began to stab downward. He heard a horse whinny in the distance, and knew that Rutilius was there. The Roman would watch his woman die before his eyes without a prayer of doing anything about it. That damned smile will fade. Now. The dagger swept forward faster.

Ka-thunk!

Ulfrich stared at the arrow nailing his wrist to the tree. What in the name of Loke?

Another ka-thunk, and his right leg was likewise pinned to the tree. He struggled madly to free himself as he heard the horses’ hooves pounding the forest floor. The arrow was embedded deep into the tree- it was as if Donar himself had driven it there. He noticed it was an oaken shaft. Erwin! I have been pinned by a Bructeri arrow, made by our best arrowsmith who was to lure Rutilius to his doom! He could not break the shaft, but he could and did rip his arm free by sliding his pierced flesh off of the end in an excruciating wrenching of muscle.

It did not help any. Claudius Victor swung his sword at the gallop as only a Batavian could do, leaning far over in the saddle and slamming the flat of the blade alongside the Bructeri skull. The brain inside rattled like a child’s toy. Ulfrich slumped to the ground like a sack of apples, only his leg remaining where it was- pinned to the tree by the second Bructeri arrow.

Rutilius, who was right behind Claudius, threw his bow aside and literally tumbled from the saddle. He rushed to his wife, and took her by the shoulders.

“Are you harmed?” he asked. The concern in his voice was true, and thick enough with which to smear butter onto bread. “Are you injured?”

Veleda shook her head. Her smile faded a bit at his touch, but not because of it. Her visions returned, flooding her mind with new possibilities of the future- and some certainties. This man’s love was one of them, in bright and vivid colors with Valkyries singing loudly. She broke from his grasp and rushed inward to him to hold him fervently. “I am fine, lover. Our child as well.”

He returned her embrace feverishly. “I was a fool to let you go. I shall not be so foolish again.” He kissed the top of her head as he held her tightly.

“I know,” Froydis replied lowly. Then she giggled at her own words. “At least, I know it now.”

She turned her head to catch Claudius Victor beaming like a lovestruck nymph. He had kicked the dagger meant to kill her from the hands of Ulfrich, and was about to deliver a francisca blade to the man’s forehead.

“Let him live,” she asked of the steward. “He was told long ago that he would be struck down by a prince, and die in utter agony. You, prince of the Batavi, struck down Ulfrich of the Bructeri, who once broke a king’s decree and slaughtered two surrendered Roman legions. It is only fair that the Romans fulfill the other half of his destiny.”

For once, Rutilius did not mind the powers his wife wielded. “He crucified me in his hall, as a trophy. I shall do the same to him, but I shall do it right. Bind him securely, Claudius. We do not want to prove Veleda a liar just yet.” That last was added with a cruel grin.

“He knows the secret of your wife, Marek. It would be in order to silence him forever, to keep her safe.”

Veleda held her husband fiercely while she spoke, “He will indeed talk, but it will come to naught. None who hear his words will believe them, or care. It will be the ravings of a crazed man, and of no more importance than a butterfly’s wingbeats on a windy day.”

“You know this, without touching him?” Claudius Victor asked.

“I am holding my husband,” Veleda replied in a demure voice. “We now have a long and happy future together. This I do see. Nothing Ulfrich did or will do, said or will say, shall change that.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

It was two days before the summer solstice, on the flat stony field outside the gates of the castrum at Vetera. The field was deserted but for two men, though it was surrounded by the ankle-high foundations of destroyed buildings. Surrounding the foundations was a cohort of the XXII Primigenia, rotating its patrols around the perimeter of the old castrum. The field itself, the former parade ground of the castrum destroyed in the Batavian Revolt six years earlier, was marred only by the removal of one stone in order to plant a cross and the splinters of broken pottery here and there.

“I must applaud your excellent archery,” Ulfrich said as he hung from the cross. His wrists were securely bound, and a second set of ropes on his upper arms prevented any movement from his limbs. But he did not hang, not quite. A little ledge was under his feet. Upon this ledge he stood, to keep the weight of his muscular body from pulling his arms out of joint. It was a temporary relief, one that would make his death take that much longer when he no longer had the strength to stand on it. “No man I know can hit a moving arm from two hundred paces, and then finish the job with an arrow to the leg.”

“Shut up,” Rutilius ordered. He sat before the crucified man on a curule stool, a badge of his office as reigning governor. “I missed. I was aiming at your chest.”

“Then it is truly fate that causes me to hang here,” Ulfrich said with a resigned sigh.

“No, you did that yourself,” Rutilius corrected, “when you defied the decree of free passage given by Civilis to Lupercus. I served in the V Alaudae, you know. I knew Civilis, if but briefly. He would have murdered me out of prudence, but he was an honorable man for that. The Alaudae and the XVth were good men, who deserved better than to be butchered helpless and unarmed in the forest by a brute who knew no honor.”

“Helpless?” Ulfrich sputtered. He laughed. ”They killed a hundred of my men- some of them with their teeth! Yet they died, though they died well. I shall try to do the same.”

“I do not give a damn as long as you do die,” Rutilius replied straightforwardly. “You are a blight upon the honor of any who know you. Killer, murderer, rapist, liar, coward, the list goes on. But it ends here.”

Ulfrich made to say something, the held his mouth shut. After a few minutes of blessed silence, he spoke again.

“This spot must hold some kind of special significance for you,” he mused. “Did you choose it so that I could see my lands across the river, to torture me with the fact that I can see my lands but never again set foot on them? That no hope of rescue exists?”

“No,” Rutilius replied quietly. “I choose it to settle some ghosts.”

When it became apparent that the crucified Germanic had no idea of what he spoke, he added, “We found the bodies in the woods where you left them. You did not even bother to clean up the battlefield, or give them a proper burial. So my legion and the others picked up the men, burned them with a priest performing the rites to give their souls peace, and stored their ashes in large amphorae. One hundred and sixty amphorae. But the spirits did not gain peace from that. Every man who had ever served in either legion knew that. The spirits would not rest until their killer joined them.”

Rutilius stood, bringing his voice closer to the hanging man. “We built that castrum over there from the stones of this one. This one was too far gone to repair. And when we were done, we broke the amphora here on the parade ground, that the men be free in the fortress they fought so long to defend. But that too did not give them peace.”

He looked about. “Do you not see them, Bructeri? The shades of the men you murdered? I can feel them, and know they watch. You are closer to Death than I am. You should see them better than I. Staring, waiting, expecting you to join them, that they can rest sated of vengeance.”

The utter conviction in the voice of Rutilius caused a shiver to pass through his body. Yes, he could see them now. Short, dark shadows, gathering around the edges of the field. His victims, coming to take his soul and torture it forever for the crime he had committed. No Valkyrie would come for him now, to sweep him away to Wotan’s Great Hall. No, ghosts and spirits shall drag him down to Nifelheim, or worse- to their own hell. He quivered visibly now.

“I was content to put you here , bent over a wooden sawhorse, and scourge you to death to placate them,” Rutilius continued. “Fifty lashes, maybe more- you are a strong bull. You would bleed in agony, and mix your blood with their ashes before your soul joins theirs. Or simply strike you down and be done with it. But I changed my mind. I decided your fate would be the one you once decreed for me. You crucified me, a Roman citizen. But like all things you do, you screwed it up. I decided to crucify you, and show you how it should be done. The ledge upon which you rest is an aberration, though. You gave me a ledge, so I return the favor. Now shut up and die like a good man. One more word and I shall cut out your tongue. It will hasten your death, but relieve me of hearing your nonsense. The Larks would understand.”

Rutilius sat down and resumed watching the man die. Despite the physical strength and size of the condemned man, Rutilius knew from experience that it was a simple matter of mental strength versus the pain that would determine how long it took to die. Ulfrich was an ox in body but a worm in spirit.

He would not last the day, ledge or no.



***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 03-27-13 08:27 AM EDT (US)     38 / 45       
A brutal way to end someone's life. Brutal.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 03-27-13 01:31 PM EDT (US)     39 / 45       
He probably deserved it though... An excellent update as always, Terikel.

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 04-02-13 03:14 AM EDT (US)     40 / 45       
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Epilogue

Castellum Rutilius, outside Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippensi, Late Autumn


“I see you are settled in now,” said the visitor. He was sprawled on the Roman couch in the reception chamber of the governor’s house outside of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippensi. He was an odd sight, that man, dressed in Germanic leathers with long blonde hair tied up in a Suevi knot on the top of his head. A long Germanic sword was at his left hip, with a hunting knife of the other and a francisca tucked into his belt. A hint of chainmail could be seen where his leather jacket was not quite closed. In all, a German lounging on the couch instead of sitting upright in the dining hall was as out of place as a Vestal virgin in a bordello.

But then again, Gaius Roscius was as Roman as Caesar, despite his current garb.

“The province is settled,” Marcus Rutilius agreed. “And Cadorus is becoming quite a good quaestor. His suggestion of moving the VI Victrix to Vetera was a good one. The XXII Primigenia is on its way to Pannonia now.”

“Well, with Paulus now a praetor there and the Old Owl asking you to send a legion to Pannonia, it makes sense to give him his old legion as an escort. And with Gnaeus Messala in Rome now, moving the VIth north will put that young prick of a new legate under the stern barbarian eye of Cadorus. It also gives Cadorus two legions with which to secure the long northern part, while you and Amensius’s Rapax can hold the short south easily enough. Especially now.”

Rutilius nodded. “The peace is holding. The Marsi have finally chosen a king, and he is an ally of Segestes. The Tencteri and Usipi are too exhausted to do anything anyway. That leaves the Chatti as the only source of potential trouble.”

“Theowyck is a good bloke,” Roscius countered. “His tribe was hurt bad when his father died seeking glory in the north. Theowyck blames Halla for that, not you. In fact, when I had dinner with him a month ago, he wished you well.”

Rutilius raised an eyebrow.

“No, he did not see through my disguise,” Roscius clarified quickly. “He was speaking in general. He wished his own reign would be as long as his father’s, and as that he would be as honorable to his tribe as you were to yours. He made a big point of it, to be honest. Plus his tata lost a lot of men in that goatscrew by the Grove. He will not be going to war anytime soon.”

“I have it from a reliable source that the border here will be quiet for quite some time- centuries even,” Rutilius said. “The Germani are settled, and the Empire is looking to the Danubius now. The Dacians are really starting to act up, so the Rhenus falls in importance now that the Agri Decumates are in our hands.”

Roscius nodded. He had heard the same thing, from other sources. The eyes of the empire were turning away. Rutilius had built a good peace here that was fair for all, and thus would hold for quite some time. Centuries? That was taking it a bit far, but for the foreseeable future it was appeared true.

“So how are your orders proceeding?” he asked casually. He picked another plum from the bowl on the table and popped it into his mouth in a single gulp. “I love these damned things, by the way. From your farms?” He spit the pit out with a loud thunk.

“Imported,” Rutilius said off-handedly. “I will start an orchard of those near Argentoratum, though. Calix has the climate and the know-how to make the trees grow and thrive.”

“Speaking of farms, I ran into Claudius Victor. He just bought a nice plot just north of here. For Dieter, I assume?”

Rutilius nodded. “His woman came across the river two months ago with a small escort. He and she have hardly left the cottage since. I had Claudius Victor buy that farm so the rest of us could get some sleep during the night hours.”

“Met her,” Roscius admitted. “A pretty woman, built solid enough to take the likes of him. I met one of her escorts, too. Another big girl, but with two thick braids of hair the color of unsalted butter. She is carrying someone’s child now, but acting like a widow. I might settle down myself to a ready-made family, if I could get her to look at me the way her buddy Heidi looks at Deets.”

Rutilius hid the smile the mention of Sigrun brought. He had his own social spies now, and they kept him informed of every available woman in the province who might make a good mate for any of the eligible bachelors among the elite Guardsmen. A beautiful actress like Sigrun would indeed make a fitting mate for a rugged arcanus.

“As to my orders,” he said, finishing off the last lines of his scroll, “they are going well. Here is the latest report you are to which you are to testify. Our lads fought three skirmishes, driving the savages back into their woods, and are advancing on their stronghold, where we expect to recover the Eagles soon.”

“I love a good work of fiction,” Roscius said. He sat up. “No mention of Germanic spies, or massive ambushes, or of Chatti warhosts trapping our men?”

“As decreed by Vespasian himself,” Rutilius nodded. “A boring work of pure fiction to feed the warhawks in the Senate. No ambushes, no surprises, just mundane overrunning of savages in small-sale battles. I will give you the Eagles to take back on your next trip, when I write that the legions are returning to their winter quarters.”

Roscius rose. “I will take this to Cordinus in Gaul to have him seal it and make it official.” He scooped up the scroll and rolled it up before stuffing it into his mail-bag. He began to exit, then turned. “And the other order?”

Rutilius looked him dead in the eye. “Veleda the Witch has disappeared and not been seen in years. We are continuing to search for her but it is like finding a strand of straw in a haystack. I do not expect success.”

“She would know where we are looking,” Roscius said bitterly. “And from all I have heard, she was a true spåkona. I don’t expect her to be found either. Anyway, I’m off for Gaul. Give my regards to your wife and kids. That daughter of yours has really bright eyes, Marek. Like her mother. She will be a handful when she is older.”

Rutilius smiled broadly. “You have no idea.”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

EINDE, FINIS

THE END

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
Legion Of Hell
Centurion
posted 04-02-13 07:13 AM EDT (US)     41 / 45       
A brilliant tale!

I have watched Rutillus from a young soldier caught up in the destruction of several legions to be the saviour of Rome in Germania!

Though it will be weird not seeing a new chapter from you every week.

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
The Bald Eagle
Ashigaru
posted 04-02-13 09:07 AM EDT (US)     42 / 45       
An epic tale indeed!
With a fitting epilogue. For over two years I've been following and catching up the trials and turbulations of this Right wing guy.

But with all good stories, it has to end some time.
And this seems like a good a point as any.
Although I would've liked to see Rutilius play a role in Domitianus coming to power...

Any other tales lined up for us oh great Skald?

Thanks for keeping us entertained for so long!
(we want more)
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 04-02-13 03:50 PM EDT (US)     43 / 45       
This tale has come to an end... What a shame... I just hope that you'll write another equally wonderful tale soon (we have a Sepia Joust on historical fiction coming).

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 04-03-13 01:51 AM EDT (US)     44 / 45       
A magnificent end to a Masterful epic. Amazing work chief Skald!

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
Aftermath
HG Alumnus
posted 05-17-13 09:45 AM EDT (US)     45 / 45       
It has come to my attention that this wonderful tale has finished, I am still woefully behind on my reading, but I felt the need to drop in and say what a magnificent job you've done in crafting this epic.

I look forward to reading your next scroll, hopefully by then I'll have completed this one!

A f t y

A A R S

:: The Sun always rises in the East :: Flawless Crowns :: Dancing Days ::

"We kissed the Sun, and it smiled down upon us."
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