In AD121 the Twentieth Legion of Rome stands at the northern frontier of Britannia. Forgotten, neglected and dour in spirit, they must still do their duty for an Empire whose meaning is becoming lost to them.
As the lives of the local Teviot family intertwine with the legion, relationships of love and bitter anguish unfurl. Will the invading army push north? Will the disputing native tribes unite in an uprising? Can Marcus be with Jolinda?
When peace is fragile, friendships count for everything…
The sun was soothing on his face, and Marcus kept his eyes shut longer than intended. Sleep had not come easily the night before in the stables and he was tired. He’d remained awake long after the ladies had retired to their chambers, sleep unable to claim him as the evening’s events churned repeatedly in his head.
When Brutus and Cloelia had been collecting a second platter of food, Julita had wasted no time in speaking plainly to him. She’d offered a basis on which to build a friendship of equal caste while they travelled, nothing underhand and no promises of patronage once in Rome. Her desire for a level footing between them was, she said, propitious for a safer journey and nothing more than that. She had said much the same to Brutus he discovered, and to Lucius too, although not until an opportunity arose when he appeared in the morning.
Marcus conceded it was certainly easier being able to speak evenly without concern for class, and he found himself liking the legate’s wife, but he hung on to the wariness that prowled a small area of his gut, cautious of a sting in her tail. Cloelia was a scratch on his conscience too. Seeing his pendant around her neck had prickled. Why did she wear it? The flame was gone for him, he’d told her that, and even if it rekindled, he would douse it now he knew Brutus’s intentions. Gods, Cloelia was his friend’s only lifeline from ruin, and that was severely frayed. He wouldn’t add to his woes.
At some point, there by the river with his back warm against the rocks and the land wrapping him with unruffled sounds, he must have slipped in to sleep as his thoughts faded without conclusions. He awoke with a start, his subconscious penetrated by a sound that didn’t fit with the rest.
“A bit jumpy are we not?” smirked Lucius, who was sitting with his elbows on his thighs whittling a hazel stick with his dagger. “Were you chasing a deer or a woman in your dreams? My reckoning is, whichever you were after, they got away.” Marcus grunted in answer to the teasing, an unease still spiking him.
Clearly, he had been dozing longer than he thought, as Brutus, Cloelia and Julita had made their way a hundred paces upstream, their footwear in hands and clothing tucked up out of reach of the shallows. They were examining the middle of the riverbed, Brutus with his sword in hand, no doubt hoping to spear a fish. Cloelia’s giggle drifted over on the gentle breeze.
“A sestertia says it was a woman,” continued Lucius.
“Quiet!” interrupted Marcus, cocking his head towards the horse, which was tethered to the willow on the upper ground alongside the cart. “There is something wrong.” Seeing a doubtful expression from Lucius, Marcus added, “trust me, I speak fluent equine. A harsh lesson is a rapid teacher!” The mare had lifted her head from grazing and was stamping her hind legs and snickering nervously. It was enough warning. Both legionaries were on their feet in an instant, swords unsheathed and moving instinctively in opposite directions, running in a crouch to keep below the ridge. They would have to scale the ridge blind, not knowing who or what awaited them, but to delay was folly, speed of action was to their advantage.
Flattened against the dropped bank, his mouth dry and crazed moths filling his stomach, Marcus drew a breath and signalled to Lucius. Counting down from three with his fingers, they scrambled to the higher ground together, closing in on the copse from opposite sides. A moment of relief bathed Marcus at the absence of a horde before them, but he had little time to enjoy the feeling as he spotted two savages at the cart, one holding the mare steady, the second rifling through the goods, filling a sack. He despised the treachery of theft and could taste the bile of anger burn at his throat.
A yell caught his attention, and he saw that Lucius had unfortunately risen from the river very close to a third savage. A large brute Marcus noticed and before Lucius could gather himself, a bestial flurry of flailing hair and limbs was launching at him, a Celtic hunting blade flashing in the sunlight. Lucius managed to parry the blade with his sword, the clash of steel discordant with the idyllic surroundings, but the surprise of the attack took him off balance and both men fell to the ground, losing their weapons on impact.
Marcus cursed as he began running to intercept the second native who was down from the cart and heading towards the fray. Lucius would have no chance of survival against two. The mare was stamping in fright at the sudden disturbances, throwing her head and Marcus was grateful she was keeping the third savage occupied, who clearly had no intention of letting go, the horse being a valuable asset. “Let us make it even numbers then,” he muttered with a snarl curling his lips as he pumped his legs hard to close the gap, adrenalin fuelling his blood.
Thank you, Heather Robinson and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree with most of her working life spent as an Administration Manager locally. She is also a qualified and experienced radio presenter, hosting a weekly show for Warminster Community Radio. Proud parents of two boys, Heather and her husband Graham share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling.
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heather.robinson.908579/?hl=en Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heather-Robinson/e/B01N9S07M2
Universal Link: mybook.to/WallofStone
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