Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead – and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer. But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood. Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…
DURING THE BLOG TOUR – THE PRICE OF THE EBOOK OF AURELIA WILL BE REDUCED TO 99 PENCE/CENTS
‘One more run should do it,’ I said. ‘Get the troops formed up, Senior Centurion Numerus, if you please.’ I squeezed my gloved hands together hard and released them in the hope of stimulating some warmth in my fingers. And I felt the first touches of sleet on my face as I looked round the grey walls of the mountain valley. At least we’d been warm overnight in the winter hut and had stomachs full of hot field rations. But despite our mountain gear with fur-lined hoods and dark goggles protecting against the high-altitude sunlight, the icy wind found exposed skin and froze it numb.
Thank the gods this was our only permeable frontier, but curse them it was this high and cold. We were nominally at peace with all other nations around us, although the Reds in the East continually attempted to infiltrate. As a tiny country wedged in between the Italian Federation to the south-west and New Austria to the north, we were vulnerable. Our vigilance and electronic barriers were our joint protection. For my money, I would have kept a watchful eye on the Prussians to the north, but I was a mere soldier.
Numerus saluted and beckoned his NCOs over to receive their orders and assemble the patrol groups. Gamma Troop had set off straight after breakfast back to base with a truckload of prisoners, mainly smugglers, but also a couple of Balkanites looking for a better life. Minutes later, thirty-six soldiers stood in three groups of four by three deep in the lee of the hut. None of them showed any reaction to the cruel weather. Numerus’s runner, Mercuria, a petite young woman lost in the folds of her winter uniform parka, handed me the deployment list.
We moved out at 09.00 with full backpacks, forty-eight more hours on the mountainside in front of us. Beta and Delta were west and east respectively of my Alpha Troop. An hour later, with snow falling lightly, we were creeping along behind the ridge overlooking the track we’d patrolled five days ago when I heard a thud below.
‘Halt’s Maul,’ hissed another voice.
Germanic, standard, a faint Prussian twang. I hadn’t heard it for years.
I brought my hand across in an abrupt cut-off gesture. We stopped dead. What in Hades were they were doing up here on one of the highest, and most treacherous passes?
I signalled Numerus to take four troops to head them off. The senior optio I signalled to take her group up to the high point above the mountain pass the two were heading for. I would spring the trap from behind. Motionless, we listened to their heavy footsteps, smashing down on the crisp snow as they approached. When we saw the plumes from their breath, we pounced.
In the end, it was ridiculously easy. At my challenge, they ran straight into a grim-faced Numerus. Dropping instantly into a crouch, the two men drew black combat knives. The snowlight reflected the thread of silver along the cutting edges. The taller one, his arm bent back ready to force his blade into Numerus, ran towards the Roma Novan at full tilt. Numerus launched his fist like a battering ram into the Prussian’s face before his opponent could make the thrust.
The other one slashed Mercuria’s arm, but was overpowered by a charge from the other two Praetorians. Metallic clicks from above as the optio’s detail readied their rifles and aimed down at the Prussians’ heads finished off any idea of escape.
We stood motionless for a few moments, legs braced, eyes darting around checking for others. The only sound breaking the silence was our breath. Then came a
whoosh, a rustle, a half-sound so faint it could only have been a wild animal scampering away. But there wasn’t any wildlife up here in the falling snow. I signalled silence. One of Numerus’s troops stuffed his gloved fist in the conscious Prussian’s mouth to stop him shouting a warning.
Shouldering my rifle, I beckoned two troops to follow me. Crouching down, and walking like ruptured crabs, we eased along the back of the ridge. I heard it again. A soft crushing sound on the snow, then another. I peeped over the edge, holding my breath so it wouldn’t show. My pocket scope showed nothing, but as I went to withdraw below the edge of the ridge, I spotted a figure slinking away. I signalled my two troops to spread out ready to make a pincer movement.
‘On my mark,’ I whispered into my radio, hoping our quarry couldn’t hear through the snow. I unslung my rifle, counted to three and stood up.
‘Halt!’ I shouted in Germanic. ‘Stay exactly where you are. You have precisely three seconds to show yourself and surrender. Or we’ll shoot.’
The only answer I got was a laugh, a full-throated, rich, masculine laugh. I couldn’t believe it. What idiot laughed surrounded by an armed patrol authorised to terminate? Then I heard gunfire and a muffled curse in Latin. Mars, he’d shot one of my troops. I climbed over the ridge and advanced at full speed towards the point of origin of the laugh. Bastard. I’d laugh at him when we caught him.
A shot and a burst of pain in my ear. Hades, that stung. But I grabbed my breath along with my rifle and ran on, zigzagging to break his aim. Then I saw his figure outlined against the snow, legs pumping as he sprinted toward the next ridge. I pushed myself to my limit, freezing air dragging in and out of my lungs, but he was gaining space between us. I was going to lose him. I stopped, steadied my breath, aimed at his upper body and fired. I saw him fall, then nothing. The snow was in full blizzard now. I trotted in the direction of the ridge, searched for the body, but found nothing. I looked down the slope in front of me and through the thickening curtain of snow saw a figure moving impossibly fast and swaying.
Thank you, Alison Morton and Random Things Tours.
About the author
Alison Morton writes the Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. This springs from a deep love of Roman history, six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction. All six full-length novels have received the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO featured as Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds an MA History, blogs about Romans, social media and writing. Oh, and she gives talks. She continues writing, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband. To get the latest news, subscribe to her free newsletter https://alison-morton.com/newsletter/
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