Anguis et Aper
‘The Dragon and the Boar’
The chieftain was waiting around the last embers of his night fire when the voice echoed down the glen. He rose slowly when the others jumped. The swirling designs that covered his body came to life with his movement, and the blue boar across his massive chest bristled in anticipation. He had dreamt last night that this was the day on which he would etch his name on the stone of time. His ancestors would not let him down, they demanded he fight.
“Lord!” screamed the chieftain’s scout as he flung himself onto his knees from his pony’s back, lungs heaving. “It is the Dragon, my lord. He is coming in at the western end of the glen!”
The chieftain looked at the ground beneath his feet, the sky above. He could feel his warriors’ eyes upon him, expectant and itching for battle. They were the mightiest of his clan, nine hundred strong, their ponies sturdy and swift.
“How many?” He allowed himself a smile.
“Eight dragons, lord. About two-hundred and fifty riders in all.”
“Against our nine hundred?” the chieftain’s voice erupted and he pumped his powerful arms to the sky. “Today we finish this, and I will kill the Dragon with these bare hands!” His warriors roared their approval and adulation. “Mount up! We go now to the kill!”
With that, nine hundred fighting men bounded onto their mounts, the chieftain in his war chariot, and thundered westward down the glen, eating up the earth before them.
Mist hung loosely in the valley, forced back by the growing light of day and more than two hundred and fifty horses and riders of the Ala III Britannorum who trounced the muddy green of the land as they rode to meet their quarry, the Boar of the Selgovae. Each man knew his role and that of his comrade so that they moved as one, a force of nature rushing to battle as a wave to the shore.
Above the riders, the draconaria howled terribly, their long tails fluting back over their ranks when they were hoisted and the force split into three as they entered the valley, one down the centre and two smaller ones on either of the flanking hillsides among the trees. At the crest of this wave of howling scales and teeth rode their praefectus, the ‘Dragon’, his long, crimson cloak flowing behind him like a river of blood. His face was masked by his crested war helm with the mark of the dragon, rampant also upon his black armour and his red and gold vexillum standard mounted on a spear carried by one of his men.
The praefectus picked up the pace of the charge when he spotted the sacred birds above his three columns, guiding them to battle. He hefted his twelve-foot kontos lance and a rush of warm wind seemed to push them on from behind to meet the dark wave of the enemy as it appeared in the distance, small at first, but the size of the force coming at them quickly became more apparent. Beneath the deathly cold demeanour of his war mask the praefectus smiled as he noticed the disarray of the enemy forces coming toward them, each individual hero of the Selgovae fighting for his own glory. In their centre, churning up the earth, came an ancient war chariot skillfully-driven. On the small fighting platform stood a giant of a man gripping three ash spears, a golden torc about his brawny neck.
The praefectus now knew his target and focussed on it, his every limb tingling, pulsing with the fight to come and he pushed straight at the warrior chieftain who was pulling back an arm to launch a spear. The praefectus did not need to look to know his men where exactly where they should be; he could feel them. As the two waves approached in a body of screams and battle cries, the praefectus transferred his lance to his other hand and unslung the golden-hilted sword at his back.
“Anguis!” roared the riders behind him.
The Boar of the Selgovae let fly his spear at the winging Dragon’s heart only to be hacked away in the air before it struck home. A second spear flew on, farther than most men could throw, and was parried to land harmlessly on the ground amidst the riders behind. The chieftain roared and his warriors surged at the smaller force, covering the entire valley. Before he realized it, the chariot was swerving, its driver at his feet, impaled on the Dragon’s tooth. The chieftain grabbed for the reins with his free hand and braced himself defiantly on the prow of his ancestors’ chariot. In a moment he was swept away through the red air as the Dragon leapt from his horse amidst the crashing armies and chaos.
The Dragon and the Boar soared out the back of the chariot to land heavily on the already bloodied earth.
“Ahh!” the chieftain raged as he felt the blood leaking from his side where the Dragon had already sunk his tooth into his flesh. He regained his feet only to find his bodyguards writhing on the ground about him, daggers protruding from their guts. In front of him stood the Dragon, his bloody cloak blowing in the rushing wind, his steel face cold and blank, the only trace of emotion the golden sword that was pointed at him, dripping with the blood of his people.
The Boar rushed at his enemy with his long hacking sword but the Dragon moved with ethereal speed, behind him when he should have been in front of him, cutting at his back, inflicting weakening wounds about his body. The boar writhed, but would not abate his attacks, and the two fought on.
The praefectus moved instinctively, as though with foresight, unaware of the ring of fighting warriors that had formed about him and the chieftain. About the circle swirled his riders, in a maelstrom of death as they hacked away at the enemy forces, on the killing field and on the hillsides where the other columns had engaged. At the back of his mind, he was only vaguely aware of the thunder further down the valley. His other eight dragons had come to join the battle at the rear of the enemy.
The Dragon and the Boar fought on, circling, swirling and biting. They slashed at eachother remorselessly, the voices of their gods ringing in their ears.
“Morrigan!” the Boar screamed the name of the war goddess as he leapt and rolled to slam into the Dragon’s guts and lift him into the air to the delight of his warriors. His prey would not be held long, having climbed over him in the rush of his attack to land on his feet behind the chieftain.
The Dragon roared like one of his draconaria when he felt hot blood pouring from a gash in his thigh inflicted by the Boar in his attack.
“The Dragon is bloodied!” the chieftain goaded, but before he knew it his enemy was upon him, and he felt one of the Dragon’s teeth sink into the muscle of his leg, lancing with pain. His massive arms reached out to grab but met only air as the Dragon wrapped an iron arm about his neck from behind and began to squeeze.
Immediately the Boar’s vision failed as he began to succumb to the death grip, his tired, wounded arms flailing backward helplessly. Now the remainder of his bodyguards moved in to help, but as quickly as they neared, just as quickly were they swept away, impaled on the lances of the unseen second wave of dragons that was finishing off the desperate remnants of his warriors.
Wanting nothing but death now, the Boar heaved with a last effort so that the Dragon was thrown over his head, the death grip broken. The Dragon swirled in a flurry of red before him and the Boar charged to skewer him on his long sword him as he came down. The Dragon landed on his feet and immediately lowered and spun, his armoured leg crashing into the Boar’s knee, the golden sword flashing up to slice through and shatter the Boar’s ancestral blade.
The Boar tried to raise himself on the corpses of his clansmen where they lay about him, to meet his death on his feet, but he felt burning fire in his leg and fell back down again, agony ripping at his throat. His arms shaking he looked up to see the Dragon staring down at him, his expressionless mask cold, a god of death whose glowing sword now extended to his throat.
“Kill me!” the Boar raged at his enemy. “I am not afraid of death. Kill me!” The Dragon’s arm steadied for a moment and the fallen chieftain readied himself for the blow that would send him to his ancestors, but it was not meant to be. The Dragon shook his armoured head once, turned and walked away. “Kill me, you demon! Coward!” the chieftain roared, disappointed and bereft. “Why won’t you kill me?” he asked, but all that met him was the billowing crimson cloak amidst the carnage.
The chieftain made to grab a nearby dagger to do it himself, but strong, scaled arms grabbed him and the world went black.
From the top of his dapple-grey stallion, the praefectus surveyed the killing field, finally allowing himself a deep, calming breath to bring himself back to humanity. Behind him, his vexillarius and princeps waited atop their own mounts. He remained silent a moment, stroking his stallion’s neck softly, contemplating the scene about him. The valley floor was churned and hacked and bloodied, as though the earth itself had been disembowelled by sword and spear, trampled. His men did not address him, waited, as they knew he had come to wish for silence immediately after every engagement. His second-in-command, his princeps, waited, knowing how much Britannia had changed him. In a short time they had fought and defeated thirty chieftains and thousands of warriors of the various rebel tribes, for the emperor, for Rome. As the ‘Dragon’, the praefectus had become something of a legend among the tribes, something to be feared and challenged by the bravest.
The praefectus shook his head and closed his eyes beneath his mask. It was all blood now, on the road to Hades. He did not notice the three white birds in the branches of a tree far up the hillside, watching. He motioned subtly to his princeps who trotted over to his side.
“Praefectus?” the head decurion noticed the blood flowing from his commander’s thigh and spoke so no one could hear him. “Anguis,” he addressed him by his name, the ancient word for dragon that only his friends used. “You are wounded.”
The praefectus looked down at where his old wound from the assassins in Africa had reopened. He covered it quickly with the edge of his crimson cloak.
“I’m fine, Dagon,” he assured him. “It’s nothing new. I’ll have it stitched up back at base.”
The princeps nodded and spoke louder. “What are your orders, Praefectus?”
The praefectus looked at the rows of captured enemy warriors where they were hobbled with ropes about the cart where their chieftain had been tied and was still unconscious.
“Marching formation back to base with four turmae surrounding the captives. We’ll hold them under tight guard in Trimontium until a detachment from the sixth legion can come to take them to the slave yards at Eburacum.” He looked at the bulky form of the chieftain again. “I want the Boar held apart from his people, secretly. Have the physicians bind his wounds.”
“It shall be done as you command, Praefectus.”
‘The Place of Three Hills’
The column of armoured horsemen and captives snaked for miles among the bulbous hills and rushing rivers of the war zone north of the Wall. The dragon banners fluted above the mounted warriors at whose head rode the praefectus, Lucius Metellus Anguis and the princeps, Dagon, the Sarmatian king. Accompanying the praefectus and princeps as always, was Barta, the praefectus’ vexillarius and bodyguard. Dagon had assigned the giant Sarmatian to be Lucius’ shadow when his friend had been given command of the quingeniary ala over a year ago.
Barta was the tallest of the over five hundred Sarmatians in the ala, his loyalty and sense of duty as sturdy and rock-hard as himself. From his head of dark hair, icy eyes were ever searching, watchful for threats to his commander and his king. On his shoulders were the skins of wolves he had killed, which added to his ferocity; a good thing, as the Celts, in battle, always went for the vexillum that was Barta’s charge. His long sword was lightning-quick, and much of the time, before attackers got close enough to attack the praefectus or Sarmatian king, they would be on the ground clutching at one of Barta’s many throwing knives.
In truth however, every bronze-scaled, fighting man of the ala was loyal to the praefectus to their death. Half of the Sarmatians had known him since the days in Numidia when they had fought the desert tribes together on the sands of Africa.
Lucius Metellus Anguis had been a tribune then, subsequently recalled to Rome when the Romans of the III Augustan legion had seen him as god-abandoned. The strange and tragic murder of the tribune’s visiting sister in the midst of the legionary base at Lambaesis had fostered great unease among the troops there.
Shortly after the tribune’s departure from Numidia, Mar, the former Sarmatian king, and Dagon’s uncle, had, on his death bed, recommended Lucius to Imperial Command as the new Praefectus of the Sarmatian ala. He had also commanded his warriors and his nephew to follow Lucius Metellus Anguis, warrior and friend of his people, who carried the mark of the dragon and the favour of the Gods.
King Dagon and his Sarmatian warriors had become family to Lucius, had given him their loyalty, their love and their blood. It was a gift for which the Roman dragon was grateful, a burden which he felt acutely every day when atop his horse and leading them to yet another battle beneath the howling draconaria.
The three peaks of the hills overlooking the refurbished base at Trimontium loomed larger now in Lucius’ field of vision as they approached the patched-up ditches and walls of the fort from the West, following the line of the river below. From the time that Rome first invaded and conquered the southern reaches of Caledonia, Trimontium had been a choice stopping point for travellers and a base for operations north of Hadrianus’ great wall.
Beneath his expressionless cavalry mask, Lucius felt the usual oppressiveness of the three peaks’ shadows upon him, like angry Titans ready to crush them without hesitation. Those hills had been sacred to the Selgovae, and now he returned with one of their greatest chiefs in chains. The small Roman signal station at the top seemed a meagre presence, one that could be extinguished, flung from the heights to the valley below. The troops assigned to the station up on the northern peak complained of spectral harassment, and a loud keening from what the local Celts called banshees, a sort of Celtic fury that wailed upon rooftops in the middle of the night. Lucius believed it, but could not say so in front of his men. Soldiers of all nations were extremely superstitious, and Romans were no exception. Lucius made as if he were not bothered, but in reality, in that faraway land, the shadows moved all too often in the mists of night.
Still, in addition to being strategically useful, Trimontium had proved useful to Lucius’ persona as the ‘Dragon’ in the region. The indigenous Celts believed the Dragon had taken the hills as his own; the peaks were his horns and the signal station at the top became his poisonous fire. Rumour had its uses in a war of re-conquest, and Lucius used it to his advantage. At the very least, it kept the war bands at a safer distance.
As the marching column came parallel with the fort’s walls, Lucius observed the defences again, as was his habit. They would need to be solid with their new intake of prisoners, especially the Boar of the Selgovae, whose people might try to free him. Lucius made a mental note to keep the chieftain apart from the other prisoners and to double the sentries until troops from Eburacum came to take them all away. For now at least, the defences were solid, having been rebuilt by the men of VI Victrix prior to the arrival of Lucius and his Sarmatian ala. The stone and timber wall stood dark and imposing behind three consecutive rows of deep ditches that surrounded the fort, western and eastern annexes. The latter two areas contained a bath house, a mansio for visitors, and a small civilian vicus where traders and camp followers had set up temporary homes.
When the praefectus acknowledged the sentries at the Decumana gate, a cornu rang out, deep and groaning, to signal the Dragons’ return. The oak and iron gates lurched inward and Lucius, Dagon, and Barta turned in beneath a massive stone block reading:
ALA III BRITANNORUM
The cornu continued to sound as rank upon rank of Sarmatian warriors came through the gates, the chained prisoners and the cart carrying the defeated chieftain in their midst. The Boar was conscious again, standing straight and defiant, the muscles of his tattooed body strained against his chains. His eyes met Lucius’, but they were not full of hate, or resignation, simply a sort of calm defiance that belied his angry body.
The Boar saw the praefectus give his princeps an order that was passed along, and soon after the chieftain was led away from his people to a building farther down the Via Decumana. The rest of the prisoners were taken to various holding cells at the north-eastern corner of the fort where they were kept under tight guard by infantry auxiliaries and archers. Lucius watched the chieftain disappear into the lower levels of the Principia-turned-exercise hall before giving his mount to Dagon and heading to the commander’s house at the southern end of the fort. As always, Barta followed.
As Lucius made his way to his quarters, the familiar sounds of the base began to ring out – the chink of Sarmatian scale armour, the neighing of hundreds of war horses, the call of the sentries atop the walls. Added to this was the angry groaning of the Selgovan prisoners, the shuffling of their manacled feet. But Lucius had become inured to the latter after so many battles.
Lucius and Barta walked through the wide doorway into the commander’s house, returning the salute given by the guards flanking the entrance. Of all the refurbished structures in the fort, after the defences, the commander’s house had received the most attention from VIth Legion. They crossed the courtyard of the square structure, hobnails scratching on the weathered stone surface. Before entering his personal rooms, Lucius turned to Barta.
“Barta, you may go now. Rest and eat.”
The massive Sarmatian stood tall, but bowed his head as he replied.
“I am content Praefectus,” he answered in his deeply guttural, accented Latin. “I will remain here until Lord Dagon arrives. The enemy are among us now…”
“And they are all chained and under guard. You need not worry.”
Barta looked up then, at the darkening sky, a shadow blanketing his features.
“Nevertheless, Praefectus, I would prefer to stay.”
Lucius knew the man would not be moved. His loyalty was sometimes uncomfortably stringent, but it was admirable too.
“Very well, my friend.” Lucius smiled for the first time that day, and placed his hand up on Barta’s shoulder. Barta looked down again, eyes trained on the dragon image across Lucius’ black cuirass. Lucius gripped more tightly to get his message across. “You fought well these last days, Barta. Lord Mar and your people would be proud.”
The man said nothing, merely tensed his jaw in pride, but also in a sort of fought-off sadness. Despite being a brutal giant, a deep pain harassed his soul, a pain at the loss of his former king and kinsman, and the loss of his own family on the great plains north of Pontus, far away. It was the same for almost every Sarmatian under Lucius’ command. Having lost almost everything, Lucius Metellus Anguis, the ‘Dragon’, was now the keeper of their loyalties, and their lives, which they gave willingly.
Lucius released his hold and turned into his rooms. Barta stood outside his door, despite the fact that his own room was just across the courtyard.
The door closed and Lucius stood in the middle of his rooms, alone for the first time in days. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply of the scent of pine that yet emanated from the new beams that held up the tile roof. It was beginning to rain outside, as it always did in that far corner of the Empire. His armour and weapons, his crimson-crested helmet, all felt three times as heavy in that moment as exhaustion finally clawed up his body. His head began to pound and he felt his guts twist.
When the feeling abated, Lucius Metellus Anguis, Praefectus of the Ala III Brittanorum, sat on a stool in the middle of his quarters feeling more alone than ever, though surrounded by friends. This latest battle flashed again in his mind, every cut and thrust of sword and spear, screams of triumph and of pain and the thundering of horses’ hooves. The dragons’ howling and…birds, white birds in the barren branches. Three of them, watching…
He looked to a niche in one of the walls where three small oil lamps illuminated three statuettes, the first a pink marble representation of Venus, beautiful and serene. Another, Apollo, his family patron and protector. And the third, a newly carved image of Epona, Goddess of Horses who was now his constant companion and the mother of their camp. Lucius moved to a table in a corner and picked up a small branch of rosemarinus, a chunk of frankincense and a small sheaf of wheat, one of many such he had tied with lengths of dyed thread.
Standing before the immortal renderings, blood encrusted on his person, Lucius laid the rosemarinus at the feet of Venus. He then set the frankincense alight in the flame of a lamp and laid it in a dish before Apollo. Lastly, he offered the sheaf of wheat with both hands to Epona, who stood with a strong stallion at her shoulder. The warrior said not a word but fell to his knees as his heart screamed out for help. Every battle he had engaged in from the beginning of the war had been successively easier. The Dragon and his iron warriors vanquished all comers. This last battle had been too easy, Lucius thought. He had actually enjoyed it, defeating and humiliating the Boar, and it sickened and frightened him to his depths. He felt more machine now than man, an engine of war hurtling against flesh and bone foes, unrelenting. He was haunted by Mars and his iron laughter.
Then, a light dawned within, thoughts of his wife, Adara, and his twin son and daughter, Phoebus and Calliope. They would be over four years old now. It had been over a year since he had left them, an eternity, and he struggled to remember their faces amidst the countless dark memories of battle. Rallying himself, Lucius Metellus Anguis rose, felt the dried mud and gore on his ancestral armour and set about disarming himself to clean and polish it all, to remove all traces of the death of others.
It was strange, the peace that a menial task could blanket upon the mind. With the mud and blood wiped away, the cloth floating in the crimson water of a basin, Lucius dipped a piece of doeskin in oil and set about polishing his bull’s hide cuirass, rubbing the grain of the hardened leather in a calm, circular motion. That done, he moved on to the image of the dragon, its wings outstretched, powerful and wise. As ever, it took on a light of its own, that ancient symbol given to his ancestors over four hundred years ago by Apollo himself, who slew the great Python at Delphi. He often thought of the irony that he, Lucius Metellus Anguis, a Roman, should be given command of the Sarmatians, a people who venerated the dragon. Just as the symbol appeared on their banners and bodies, so it adorned his cuirass, the cheek pieces of his masked war helmet, his greaves and the sword given him by Adara and shown to him by Apollo at the ends of the world. The Gods are a mystery to me.
The Dragon was a part of him as much as he a part of it. It used to frighten and confuse him, as it did his friends long ago. But now, he had come to accept the gift of ancient power and skill, and the curse of loneliness it gave in return. He looked down at the tattooed dragons that now coiled about the muscles of his forearms, a long scroll in the left claw and a red-tipped spear clutched in the right. He smiled fleetingly, remembered when Dagon, himself a king, had given him the tattoo after their first, crushing victory under Lucius’ command. The men had been awed by their praefectus’ skill and power.
Every Sarmatian warrior had images of animals upon his person; wolves, bears, horses, falcons, centaurs, griffins, sphinxes and dragons. Lucius had not protested when Dagon insisted upon this singular honour for a Roman commander. Even Lucius’ dapple-grey stallion, Lunaris, had been branded with a similar image on his rear hind quarter to further bind him to his master, his friend. For the Sarmatians, horses were most sacred, honoured as family members, even to the extent that upon their death, they were burned upon pyres next to their riders.
Perhaps, Lucius thought, that is why Epona had taken notice of him. The goddess had entered into his dreams, or as flashes in his waking hours. From the time he arrived in Britannia, he had felt her presence, seen the white birds in a nearby tree, specks on a hillside boulder, or winging through the sky before an engagement. He thought he might have been going mad, but a few times between wakefulness and sleep did he spy her, smiling, laughter in flashes of white and red-gold. But she had never spoken in words, only feelings and reassurances. Lucius would wake with a remnant sense of extreme beauty laced with terrible possibilities. She was to be honoured, not lightly, and so was now one of his personal triad of deities.
When Lucius finished polishing his armour, and a sense of peace had come back to him, he stood up, running a hand through his dark hair and sighed. His hand caught in the grime matting his hair. He took the sword his wife had given him, for it never left his side, and stood. He made his way to the baths of the commander’s house to clean and soak in the caldarium where the furnaces had been stoked since their return.
After washing with strigil and oil, Lucius sat in the hot water pool, allowing the steam to envelop him for a spell. He leaned back, rolling his neck and shoulders, raised a hand to touch the dragon-hilted sword. He had promised Adara he would always keep it with him.
I miss you, my love, he thought. Venus, goddess, bring her to me soon.
Since arriving in Britannia, he often struggled out of the violence of his everyday existence to wrangle some memory of his family, of happiness, before it faded again. His wife, her black curling locks, the green of her eyes, all of her. He could not imagine how much his children had changed. The last time he had seen any children was when the ala had stopped at the Wall to re-supply for the journey at Coriosopitum. Some of the Wall officers and troops had had families, wives with babes in arms and older children toddling about their mothers’ and fathers’ legs as they had all gathered to watch the Sarmatians ride into the settlement. Seeing those families had only served to make Lucius angry at not being able to see, to hold, his own. Children had waved to him, and cheered, but he had lowered his iron mask and ignored them.
The door to the baths creaked and Lucius’ arm slipped out of the water, silent, to take the handle of his sword. Nobody spoke. The blade’s tip scratched the stone floor as Lucius stood up naked in the misty pool and pointed the blade at the shadowy figure coming through the steam. The dragon on his arm strained then settled.
“I’m here, Dagon.” Lucius lowered the blade.
“I can barely see you for all this heat.” Dagon waved the steam in front of him away momentarily. He always skipped the hot pool, opting only for the tepidarium and frigidarium when he visited the baths. He was not bathing, however. He was dressed. Dagon looked down at his friend’s thigh where the water about was darkening. “Your wound is bleeding again.”
Lucius looked down and wiped away the clotting about his old wound. “I’ll have the surgeon put some new staples on it. He looked back at Dagon. “Is something wrong?”
“No. Nothing’s wrong. The Selgovan chieftain has been asking to speak with you.”
Lucius stepped out of the pool, past Dagon, to the cold room. “Not yet,” he said before splashing into the cold water in the next room.
Dagon knew it was still too soon to have brought the message, realized he should have waited until after Lucius had finished. He would bring it up again later.
Night had fallen and the rain continued to drench the fort, sluicing along the buildings’ roof tiles to splash on the paving slabs. The commander’s house was alight with conversation and permeated with the scent of roasted meat as Lucius shared a meal with several of his decurions. He had converted one of the larger rooms into a triclinium with rough benches and couches where he and the men under his command could talk and eat in peace. They drank only beer, for wine was more difficult to come by, and they all wanted their wits about them with the constant threat of attack. The Sarmatians rarely lost control of themselves the way Romans tended to do.
Lucius listened to a friendly argument between Brencis and Vaclar about the merits of the Selgovae in battle. He ate sparingly of some roasted boar that some of the hunters had brought back out of the hills that evening.
“Vaclar, you listen here.” Brencis, who was Dagon’s younger royal cousin, sat up and faced the other decurion who mimicked large ears the better to hear. Brencis, jovial as ever, shook his sandy head of hair, grey eyes dancing as he smiled and pulled at the long moustache he had recently grown. “You look ridiculous!” The others laughed. “You say the Selgovae were so easy to beat, that they are bad fighters. But I tell you that that battle could easily have gone the other way, for they are a fierce tribe.” Several of the others nodded in agreement. Though Brencis was all of twenty-four years, even younger than Dagon, he was a fierce fighter, astute observer, and strategist. He had the respect of his people, his cousin, and Lucius. “No. They outnumbered us greatly. The reason we won that battle with seemingly so little effort is because our preafectus, our Anguis, planned his strategy carefully and did not lead us into danger without being fully prepared. Not like some of the puffball commanders my men and I served under in Germania. If we won that battle easily, it was because Anguis knows how to win battles and has the ears of the Gods.” Brencis raised his cup, and Dagon, Vaclar and the others followed, all of them in agreement as they looked to Lucius who now sat upright. “We drink to you, Anguis, our commander, our friend, our lord of war.”
“Anguis!” they toasted in unison.
Lucius put up his hands, humbled by their devotion, awkward. “And I drink to you all, my defenders,” he glanced at Barta who towered next to the door, “my brothers. Every victory we have been granted in this land since we arrived has been because of your discipline, your skill, our fleet-footed mounts, and the inspiration that your ancestors whisper to you with every breath. I drink in turn, to you, Ala Sarmatiana!”
“Ala Sarmatiana!” they echoed. Only Dagon, did not echo the call, for he was too busy looking at his friend and wondering at the personal darkness behind the bright words.
“Praefectus, I wonder if we might question the captive chieftain to find out what kind of training in war his people undergo? It might help us in future battles.” This was asked by Hippogriff, the Greco-Sarmatian decurion. His braided blond locks were tied back from his bearded face. The others always teased him that it was the Greek in him that always wanted to gather information which he then wrote down on papyrus scrolls he thought would be useful in war planning. “We could try and get as much information out of the Boar as possible.”
Lucius stood up then and went to the window. He wore his black cuirass, pteruges, high boots and his long black, wool cloak. He held the sword in his hand, a part of his arm. The others all watched him, curious.
Lucius remembered his dream the night before the battle. It was of the Boar, before all his people, holding out his sword for Lucius to take, no complaint in his eyes. Even as he bowed his head to Lucius, a massive stallion had appeared behind him. The chieftain had done everything but give up his sword in the battle, so Lucius had taken the dream to be a sign from the Gods, from Epona, that his cavalry was to be victorious. It had seemed the Selgovae’s gods were not with them. So, he had relayed the order of battle that morning when it had come to him. The signs were not to be ignored.
“I would not humiliate the Boar by asking him to betray the people for whom he fought such a battle.” Hippogriff looked humbled. Lucius turned from the window and put his hand on Hippogriff’s shoulder. “It’s a good idea, and worthy intelligence. But I believe these people are born to war, sword in hand, and that they train as they fight, all-out, no order, no discipline.” Lucius went to the door. “The Gods were with us, and not with them. Sometimes, it’s that simple. I go now, to see Lunaris, for without him, I might not have come this far.” The Sarmatians all nodded for each of them carried out the same act every night, of feeding and brushing down their own brave mounts in thanks for their service and undying loyalty. Barta followed Lucius out as the others fell back into conversation.
The Sarmatian stable block was situated at the northern end of the base. It was quiet inside, all sound muffled by thick carpets of fresh straw and rain on the roof tiles. The gentle huffing of hundreds of horses was broken only by the occasional neighing. Lucius and Barta entered the southern end which was closest to Lunaris’ stable on the left. Immediately to the right was a wooden image of Epona surrounded by horses, dragons, gryphons and other creatures.
The scent of the place gave pause and comfort, the mixed smells of horse dung and sweet smelling hay combined with the silence of the place. Lucius inhaled and looked to the image of the mother of their camp and then went to Lunaris’ stable. The stallion had been waiting and stretched his muscular neck over the stable wall to meet Lucius as he approached. As always, Barta moved slowly the length of the stable block to look for intruders. Lucius pulled back the heavy hood of his cloak and smiled as Lunaris searched for the hand that always bore some kind of vegetable or fruit. As the horse picked up the apple, his teeth clicking on Lucius’ ring of entwined dragons, the Roman ruffled his jet mane and chuckled lightly.
“My friend,” Lucius whispered, entering the stable to stand beside the big Iberian. He picked up a horse brush and began running it over the stallion’s flanks in long downward strokes. Lunaris’ dappled coat twitched with each sweep. The trooper that had taken Lunaris to the stable earlier had already brushed down the praefectus’ mount thoroughly, but Lucius always wanted to do so himself. In a sense the Iberian was his best friend. In Africa, friends had betrayed him and the memory of it still haunted him in some ways, walled him against new, close and uninhibited ties with others. He placed his hand over the dragon brand on Lunaris’ flank that mirrored the tattoo on his arm. The stallion’s tale whisked in a circle; he had not liked it when they pressed the custom iron into his skin. It had taken Lucius some time to calm him afterward, to win back his trust, but he had. Lucius sometimes thought that he would be better off if he was able to be as forgiving as his horse.
Barta’s footsteps were returning from the other end of the stable block, but stopped some distance away so as not to disturb Lucius. The Sarmatian had no idea what troubled the praefectus so, but he respected him and honoured him as a man and warrior-commander. He knew these moments of solitude were needed, and stayed back as far as his conscience would safely allow.
Lucius leaned on the worn oak rail and gripped it until his knuckles whitened, not letting go. His war-torn self longed for the past, the enveloping embrace of his love-filled wife, the two smiling suns of his children’s faces. Like a tortured winter sea, he was crashing in on himself and just when his surface would begin to settle, another surge of anger would break.
“I miss them, Lunaris.” His grip on the rail weakened. “I feel adrift without them. They are my purpose.” Lucius struggled not to allow his sad frustration and self-pity to overtake his rage. He knew that if he allowed himself these moments of weakness, he would be dead. It was that simple, that terrifying. “What am I doing here?” his voice was a hoarse croak. Lunaris nudged him and leaned his thick neck over Lucius’ shoulder. “At least I have you…and the Dragons.”
He stopped abruptly as the outside door opened and closed, noise invading the space for a few, brief seconds. Barta was approaching from the opposite direction.
“Anguis. Barta.” Dagon nodded to both men. “Thought I would find you still here.” The young king looked at the tall Sarmatian for something, but Barta shook his head slightly, looked down. Dagon turned back to Lucius. “Anguis, an Imperial dispatch rider has just arrived from Eburacum. Orders from the emperor.”
“Where is he now?” Lucius pet Lunaris one more time and stepped out of the stable.
“I’ve left him with some of the men at the drill hall office. He’s a Praetorian.”
“Then we shouldn’t keep him waiting.” Lucius pulled his hood back over his head and the three men strode out into the rain.
Cultri in Tenebris
‘Knives in the Dark’
The exercise hall that had been the former Principia was a large, covered space with an observation platform at the eastern entrance. The air was humid and scented of mould. Rainwater dripped in the dark corners of the rafters, but the structure was solid enough and well-used. At that late hour it was dark, with only a few torches providing flickering orange light where they protruded from braces on the surrounding columns.
Lucius, Dagon and Barta entered briskly through the tall oak doors. Ten guards stood at intervals in the half-light, and in the centre of the dirt floor of the hall stood the Praetorian messenger. The man was calm, infused with confidence in the imagined invincibility his position afforded him. Lucius suppressed his annoyance; apart from his friend Alerio Cornelius Kasen, who had been made a Praetorian centurion, he trusted none of the Imperial Guard. Lucius strode straight up to the messenger, flanked by Dagon and Barta.
“You have dispatches for me?” He held out his hand for the leather carrying tube, but the man did not offer it.
“Praefectus Lucius Metellus Anguis?” He looked Lucius up and down.
“Of course. Who else?” Lucius still held out his hand.
“Just checking, sir. You are not known to me personally.” He finally handed Lucius the tube. “I have only heard you spoken of by Centurion Cornelius.”
Lucius looked up. “Did Alerio send you? What is your name, soldier?”
“I am Crato. Caesar Caracalla sent me via Centurion Cornelius.”
“How nice for you.” Lucius replied, unimpressed. “Where is the imperial force now?”
“I have heard that you have apprehended the Boar of the Selgovae.”
Dagon looked at Lucius, not succeeding in hiding his surprise very well. Lucius studied the man more closely.
“We have, yes. I have dispatches for you to carry back, requesting a detachment to pick up all the prisoners.”
Dagon handed the messenger a sealed scroll. The man nodded and tucked it beneath his cloak. He stared at Lucius.”
“May I see the prisoner?”
“Which one? There are many.”
“The Boar, of course. I-”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Lucius cut him short. “He’s surrounded not only by my men, but by hundreds of his warriors. I have him in a secret place. Secure until he is moved to Eburacum. I’m sure the emperor would like to meet him.”
“Is he in this building?” the man persisted.
“A secret place. You understand, I’m sure. We can’t risk him being rescued. The walls have ears… and I wouldn’t want you to be disciplined for going beyond your messenger’s duties.”
“Of course,” the man relented and turned to go.
“You haven’t answered my question. Where is the imperial army?”
“Still in Eburacum. But there is movement.” The man put his hood on and made to leave. “Just read the dispatches, Praefectus. It’s all in there.”
Lucius knew he would get no information from the man. He could feel Barta tense behind his shoulder.
“Do you require quarters? We have a couple spare beds in the barracks, I believe.”
“I don’t think so, Praefectus. I’ve taken rooms in the mansio for the night.”
“Very well.” Lucius paused, remembered his duty as host commander. “If you require anything else, notify my men.”
Without another word, the messenger withdrew quickly out of the doors and into the rain. Lucius watched, silent, where the firelight splashed on the wet flagstones outside.
“Have him watched, Dagon.”
“He’s no messenger.” Lucius looked at Barta. “See the string of blades beneath his cloak?” Barta nodded. “No mail messenger carries weapons like that. He’s a Praetorian spy.”
The three men went back into the night to the commander’s house and the Sarmatian guards inside the exercise hall shut the doors and barred them from the inside.
Lamplight licked the darkness about the disarrayed campaign table where Lucius sat in his quarters. It was well past the sixth hour of darkness and the rain had finally taken its ease. Harvest moonlight breached the small windows at his back as he stared at the remaining unopened message – the one from his wife.
He had left that one for last, partly because it was the one he most looked forward to, but also because his warring self was fearful of weakness. They had been apart for a long while now. Had Adara changed? He knew he had, and that alone caused him apprehension.
There had been two dispatches from Eburacum. The first was from Caesar Caracalla relaying the emperor’s plans and praising the Sarmatian cavalry under Lucius’ command. Caracalla always said more in person, but his tone was oddly congenial and full of camaraderie as he stated his eagerness to join the men of the Legions on the campaign march. Despite Caesar’s tone, however, Lucius knew better than to fall into a false sense of security. The man was a chimera of emotion.
The other letter was from Alerio and it filled the gaps left by the Caesar’s generalities. The emperor was pleased with the progress the Ala III Britannorum was making, and he promised a long furlough for Lucius and his men once they had secured a position far enough to the North. Which was where they were to push on to. Lucius was being commanded to push hard up to the very edges of the Caledonian highlands, moving in conjunction with the VI and XX Legions. Supply lines would be secured by re-establishing some of the old marching camps including the iron Gask frontier forts. Once that was done, supplies and more troops could be brought in easily by sea.
Before any of that could happen, Lucius knew he had to renew the treaty and oaths of the Votadini to the East. They had been strong Roman supporters for many years, trained in Roman tactics, and had been the only ones to keep the Selgovae in check. Sentiment however, was useless. Rome had left the Votadini to fend for themselves while it pulled back to the Great Wall. They would need reassurances, and rightly so. Lucius had sent word to their leader, Coilus, some days ago, and expected an embassy any time. The Votadini were fierce warriors and expert cavalrymen. Much depended on their support.
The rest of Alerio’s message remained official in detail and tone, and Lucius wondered at what might remain of their old, once-iron friendship. There had been no assurance of Adara and the children’s safety in Alerio missive.
Having escaped into the military details for long enough, Lucius reached for the scroll from Adara and held it to his forehead briefly. Then he broke the seal, which did not appear to have been tampered with, and read.
Lucius Metellus Anguis
Praefectus, Ala III Britannorum
My beloved Lucius, husband,
It seems an age since I last looked upon you. It has been an age! It is late into the night now and I am writing as the children sleep – for it is the only time I have to myself. I hope that this message actually reaches you, my love.
First of all, though you may already know this, we are safe in Eburacum. This has been an arduous journey, the sea voyage from Ostia to Massilia was trying, but the crossing from Gesoriacum was positively terrifying, despite our offerings to Poseidon. Perhaps the waters surrounding Britannia are less known to him? It was even worse than my crossing to Africa years ago when I was pregnant with the children, and Alene was still with us. Do you remember that blackened sky?
It was good to have broken the journey over land from Massilia to Lugdunum on the way to Gesoriacum. Gaul really is quite beautiful in places and as I said in my last letters, I still think you would love seeing Alesia which I know you read about in your copy of the Divine Julius’ memoirs.
I am rambling now. I know. I just miss you so much I need to tell you everything that is in my mind. The children listen as best as they can but are eventually drawn from their mama’s reminiscences to their toys. Who can blame them, really? They are so grown up, Lucius, so smart. I hear all the other mothers following the Imperial court, as I am, expounding on the virtues of their advancing offspring but I am convinced that ours are truly blessed, touched by the Gods. Dare I say it? I must smile at my own pride but they are truly wonderful and take after you and I both. Phoebus has many questions about you and is always practicing with the wooden gladius you gave him before leaving. It is still heavy for him but he is improving, his movements smooth and swift. Calliope is dreamy as ever and full of questions about the stars, the Gods and all manner of things. She loves bedtime stories, especially the one you used to tell her about Perseus and Andromeda. I try but it is not the same, I think. She still sings ever so sweetly. Alene’s songs…always singing. They miss you so much but I think I do most of all, Lucius. There is a painful void in the recesses of my heart while we are apart. I must get back to you, the other half of my soul, as Plato said. I can not explain it well. I have had nightmares, so many that I have made offerings to Morpheus regularly – the dreams have abated but I still fear. Calliope assures me you are well and with such utter certainty she gives me great comfort. But, Lucius, my love, some images haunt me. Beware of fire, round fire. I can not find other words, nor do I wish to dwell on it. I prefer to live in Phoebus and Calliope’s bright optimism.
News from home. It seems it is easy to get letters to me where I am in the imperial train and so your mother has been sending word to me of the family. Your brother, Caecilius, is well and learning to run the estate in Etruria, helping out your mother. Our sculptor friend, Emrys, has been helping a great deal too and has been an invaluable support to your mother. He’s even figured out how to deal with Numa and Prisca. What a sight! I think Prisca has begun to idolize Emrys whose warm charm never ceases to make her smile. Actually, Emrys is heading to Athens for a special commission and has offered to bring your mother with him so she can take up my parents’ offer to come and visit them. They would love to have her and I know she would love to see all that Alene, Gods keep her, had described in her letters when we were there together long ago.
You see? I reminisce, something I do overmuch. Oh how I can not wait to be with you in the present, to live together and look forward rather than back. The children are my saving grace and I enjoy teaching them. Letters, painting, philosophy. I’m afraid, my strong Roman, that they are more Greek at this point.
But I do not know when we shall see you and that is a torment I can no longer bear. Alerio tells me, for I see him once in a while, that the only safe place for us is in Eburacum with the empress and her household. The army will be moving north for the war – I try not to think of you caught in the middle of it as I know you must be. My only comfort is that Dagon and his men love you and follow you. They will not tell me much, only that once your ala has secured one of the Caledonian frontier lines will the children and I be able to join you. The empress has been kind to us and we lack nothing. In fact all the officers’ wives and children are well taken care of. However, I can not help feeling we are always being watched. Thankfully, my only wish is that this campaign ends so that we can be together.
I will stop now, for I know you are likely reading this into the late hours of darkness. For now, my Lucius, know that I love you and long for you with all of my being. You have all my, and the children’s, love. Please also give my wishes to Dagon, Barta and the rest of the men. I too am offering to Epona for all of you. But most of all, I pray to Venus and Apollo. May they watch over you every moment.
Goodbye for now, my truest love.
Lucius closed his eyes, buried his face in the parchment to allow the scent of Adara’s perfume to take hold of him. His mind stood on a precipice of collapse as soft emotions clung to his aching heart. His eyes began to burn beneath his tired lids. How he missed her, his young growing children, their family life back in soft, green, sunny Etruria.
Then, with a jerk, he ripped his face from the letter, remembering some of Adara’s words. He scanned the script again, worry mounting, and found it. Dagon and his men love you and follow you. Lucius flipped the scroll over again to inspect the seal, but it did not appear to have been tampered with. Nevertheless, a skilled person would be able to heat it slightly, open the seal and re-adhere it without anyone being the wiser. That one phrase, written by his wife in a personal letter could endanger them all. Emperors did not want commanders who were loved by their troops above themselves. Too many usurpers and mutinies had been borne out of such sentiment among the soldiers.
Lucius slammed his fist on the table, breathed deeply to crush his rising panic. He had been in the imperial favour for some years now, especially since he had helped rid the emperor of Plautianus, the brutal Praetorian Prefect. Now, in far-off Britannia, at war, there were far too many military men itching to gain favour over their comrades, who would not hesitate to inform on anyone they saw as competition. Lucius Metellus Anguis, the Dragon, was indeed ‘competition’.
“Gods protect us,” Lucius whispered, casting a glance at the niche where he prayed. “Grant us swift victories as we move northward, so that I may bring my family closer to me all the sooner.”
Darkness and the cold commingled perfectly in the night. There was a pervading sense of uneasiness when all nocturnal motion ceased, insects, birds and other predators. Lucius stood in the middle of a vast, barren field. The crops were burned to charred stubble, still glowing and yet, that biting cold. His feet froze in the mud, a sense of ice climbing up through his veins like roots fastening him to the ground. He was naked but for his dragon ring and he fidgeted with it as whispers pierced the darkness about him, the night littered with wraiths approaching him more with every utterance.
He shook for cold, for fear, but fought back the urge to scream. I am not afraid! I am not afraid! I am not afraid! He cursed to the dark, feeling heat within.
Then the ground released his feet. In that moment a note sounded, and a light pulsed. The moon, full and luminous, began to blaze where it hovered behind smoky clouds like a fire in the night sky.
Ahead of him, not twenty paces in the darkness, a lone figure of muscled mass swayed on his feet staring at Lucius beneath matted locks. The two approached cautiously, then the other spoke…
“I asked to speak with you…” he said and paused. When next he opened his mouth, the Boar of the Selgovae stood still as a red cicatrice sliced across his neck before he was yanked back into the darkness, eyes gaping at Lucius.
A circle of flame sprang up from the earth, from the depths of Hades itself, to surround Lucius. The dragons on his forearms seemed to writhe. From deathly cold to unbearable heat, Lucius felt death near and only returned to hope at the sound of galloping, thunderous hooves blasting through the ring of fire in a burst of white and red.
The horsewoman released Lucius outside the fire in the darkness again. Lucius, on his back, looked up to see stars shooting down from the heavens to burn up the wraiths as if from some heavenly bow. Standing above him then, a slender arm of warmth and familiarity reached out to him, helped him up and…
The parchment burned on Lucius’ campaign table where he had fallen asleep, and as he jerked awake, Barta burst through the door and strode over to him with a blanket to smother the hem of Lucius’ sleeve which had just caught. Lucius jumped up, disoriented and stared at the charred remains of Adara’s letter. The images of his dream rushed back with a sense of panic.
“My Gods,” he remembered. “The Boar!” Lucius grabbed his sword and ran outside.
“Praefectus! Anguis!” Barta called after him.
Lucius looked up at the night sky as he approached the structure of the exercise hall. The moon burned ivory behind the clouds.
“Open the doors!” he commanded the two guards as he approached the torch-lit entrance. The guards, trusted men, saluted sharply and knocked with the butt end of their pila on the oak doors, their signal to the guards inside to unbar. There was a return knock and the doors groaned open. “Has anyone been through here since we left earlier?” Lucius demanded.
The men looked puzzled and shook their heads, looking at their praefectus and Barta who had just come running up. “No, sir!” answered the optio, a man named Taboras. “Not a soul’s been here. All’s extremely quiet.”
Lucius moved into the hall. “Close the doors behind me. I’m going to see the prisoner.” With that, he plunged into the darkness of the hall to a stone staircase at the far end. Barta, Taboras and one other trooper followed.
“Praefectus? Do you suspect something?” Barta asked, fingering his throwing daggers.
“Maybe, Barta.” Lucius held his sword in front, rushed into the lower reaches of the hall where the cells were located.
They stopped when they reached the bottom, the sound of dripping water audible among the stone and iron cells. Lucius took in the scene with his accustomed quickness. There was a pained grunt at the far end and he rushed toward the guttering torches facing the Boar’s cell. A flash of steel and another grunt.
“Hold there!” Lucius commanded, but the flicker of a shadow darted toward a far corner just ahead of one of Barta’s daggers which crashed to the stone flagging. “Where is he?” Lucius asked out loud. There was another grunt and he turned with his torch to the cell.
There in the darkness knelt the Boar, chained at the neck and arms like a brawny circus bear before the mob. He looked up at Lucius momentarily and sat back against the wall to reveal two daggers, one protruding from his right shoulder, the other, which had cut the side of his head, lay red upon the ground.
“Mars’ balls!” Lucius raged. “Get more men,” he said to the trooper. I want this place searched top to bottom for whoever did this!”
“Yes, Praefectus!” the trooper snapped and headed back to the surface. Shortly thereafter a cornu sounded, raising the alarm.
Lucius opened the cell, waving Barta back. He knelt down before the Boar. Was it him or had the lifelike tattoos upon the warrior chieftain faded?
“What did you see?” Lucius asked him. “Who was it? One of your people? A rival?”
The Boar laughed. “My rivals are all dead, Roman. And imprisoned, I am as good as dead also, to my people.”
“What did he look like?” Lucius pressed. He could see the blood seeping from the shoulder wound.
“I did not see anything other than a cloaked figure and a flash of a blade.”
Lucius picked up the blade on the floor and held it up to the torch light. “Barta.” Lucius handed the blade to the big Sarmatian and put his finger to his mouth, his expression dark. “Taboras,” Lucius called to the optio.
“Go to the mansio and see if our Praetorian messenger guest is in his bed.”
“Take extra men.”
The optio paused, nodded and left.
Lucius turned to the Boar. “I’ll have my medicus take care of this.” Lucius yanked the blade out of the chieftain’s shoulder. The warrior bit down as the blade scraped bone on the way out. Lucius tied a piece of cloth around the wound as a temporary tourniquet.
“Why help me, Roman? Is my fate not to die by Rome’s hand anyway?”
“Quiet. Keep your strength,” Lucius answered abruptly before standing up and backing out of the cell. The trooper returned then with ten more men. “Keep a tight watch. I don’t want any harm to come to him. The physician will be here shortly.” The men all saluted. Lucius moved to where Barta stared at the wall where the assassin had disappeared. “Anything?”
“Nothing, Praefectus. It’s as if he vanished into thin air.” Barta looked uneasy. Lucius showed him the matching knife.
“Things that vanish don’t carry these.”
“No, Praefectus. They do not.”
The two men went back up to the drill hall which was now full of armed men. There, Taboras told Lucius the Praetorian had been in his bed at the mansio, and that he had raged that he had been disturbed.
There were no more incidents that night. When day came, it dawned clear and crisp over Trimontium, with occasional puffs of white cloud. Lucius stood in the midst of the courtyard of the commander’s house surrounded by his decurions, Dagon and Barta. From where he stood, he could see hawks wheeling and diving around the distant peaks, revelling in the gusts of wind. His crimson cloak whipped about him, bringing him back to the Praetorian before him.
“Praefectus! Are you listening to me?” the man yelled and Barta stepped up. Lucius quickly put a hand out to stop him. Crato sneered.” Careful barbarian or I’ll have you flayed.”
“That’s enough!” Lucius boomed in his parade ground voice. He moved one step closer to the Praetorian who was much smaller but who did not bat a lid. “You may have special privileges with that uniform you’re wearing, but this is my command and nobody, nobody, threatens my men.”
“Your men? Yours? These are all men in the service of his Imperial Majesty Septimius Severus, your emperor. These are not your men!”
“We all serve the emperor and while the emperor is away, I command and guard this ala, these men, in his name. You would do well to remember that, Crato.” Lucius stepped back a little, eyeing the man, “And,” he added, “if I see fit to wake you in the middle of the night to carry out an investigation of a cowardly act, I will do so.”
Crato was fuming and struggled to regain his composure under the gaze of the tattooed Sarmatian warriors about him. But he did, and managed to cloak his rage.
“Very well,” he said. “Do you have any other dispatches?”
“Yes.” Lucius held out a small, sealed scroll. “In addition to the one given you yesterday, this one outlining the incident last night.” The Praetorian showed no sign of surprise. “I have a copy in our files as well. For the record.”
“Of course, Praefectus.” The man turned to leave. He seemed eager to be away.
“Wait. One more thing,” Lucius said, Crato stopping and half turning toward him.
“What?” he snapped.
“You may want these.” Lucius produced the throwing daggers that had been used on the Boar the night before and tossed them to the ground between himself and the messenger. The clang was ten times louder in the courtyard than it would have been elsewhere. Lucius and the Sarmatians all stared darkly at the Praetorian.
“Humph! I’ve never seen those in my life. You should be more careful, Praefectus,” he spat. “Those look quite dangerous, wherever they came from.” With that, he went out into the street where his horse was being held for him.
Dagon stepped up to Lucius as he stooped to pick up the daggers.
“You have a knack for making enemies, Anguis. That one will be back.”
“Yes he will. I fear he is the small fish.”
“Amongst my countrymen, it is a serious matter to lay a dagger down between two men. You have thrown two between yourself and one of Caesar Caracalla’s men.” Dagon sighed, struggling as he usually did when reconciling the superstitions of his homeland and the hard business of war. “Perhaps centurion Alerio will be able to give some insight?”
“Perhaps, Dagon.” Lucius snapped to and addressed the assembled decurions. “I want the guard on all the Selgovae prisoners doubled at all hours. Tripled on the Boar. We should start preparing the entire ala to move out. I want to head northward as soon as the prisoners are picked up by VIth Legion and once we have met with the Votadini leaders. Make your preparations. You all know your business.” Lucius raised his voice slightly. “Let’s show these Praetorians how real warriors behave!”
The courtyard reverberated as the usually quiet men roared their agreement, chanting, “Anguis! Anguis! Anguis!” as they dispersed.
“His wounds have been bound and stapled. He is well now,” Dagon added.
“It’ll take more than a couple of daggers to kill the Boar, you can be sure of that. I’ll go and speak with him.”
“Now. You take over for inspection.”
Dagon saluted as Lucius went into the street, Barta several paces behind.