Also by Ben Kane

The Forgotten Legion

The Silver Eagle

The Road to Rome


Spartacus: The Gladiator

Spartacus: Rebellion


Hannibal: Enemy of Rome

Hannibal: Fields of Blood

Hannibal: Clouds of War

Eagles of Rome

Eagles at War

Hunting the Eagles

Eagles in the Storm


title page for Eagles in the Storm


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Epub ISBN: 9781409052203

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Copyright © Ben Kane, 2017

Ben Kane has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published by Preface Publishing in 2017

The Penguin Random House Group Limited
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 9781848094024 (hardback)
ISBN 9781848094031 (trade paperback)

Map illustration on endpapers by Darren Bennett, DKB Creative

For all Irish rugby players, past and present. You gave – and give – your all for the four proud provinces, and we love you for it. 2016 will go down as a momentous year in Irish rugby, thanks to the victories over New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

The glory is tinged with sadness too, because of the untimely death at forty-two of Anthony Foley, former Shannon, Munster and Ireland player. This book is also dedicated to Anthony, a giant of the game, taken far too soon.

List of characters

(Those marked * are recorded in history)

Missing images


Lucius Cominius Tullus, a veteran centurion, formerly of the Eighteenth Legion, now of the Fifth.

Marcus Crassus Fenestela, Tullus’ optio, or second-in-command.*

Germanicus Julius Caesar, step-grandson of Augustus, nephew of Tiberius, and imperial governor of Germania and Tres Galliae.*

Lucius Seius Tubero, a Roman noble, now a legionary legate and enemy of Tullus.*

Marcus Piso, one of Tullus’ soldiers.

Metilius, another of Tullus’ soldiers, and Piso’s friend.

Calvus, another of Tullus’ soldiers.

Dulcius and Rufus, more of Tullus’ soldiers.

Bassius, primus pilus of the Fifth Legion.

Tiberius Claudius Nero, emperor and successor to Augustus.*

Lucius Stertinius, one of Germanicus’ generals.*

Aulus Caecina Severus, military governor of Germania Inferior.*

Caius Silius, military governor of Germania Superior.*

Lucius Apronius, one of Germanicus’ legates.*

Potitius, one of Tullus’ centurions.

Flavus, Arminius’ brother.*

Aemilius, primus pilus of the First Legion.*

Chariovalda, a chieftain of the Batavi, and ally of Rome.*

Caedicius, camp prefect, and Tullus’ friend.*

Publius Quinctilius Varus, the dead governor of Germany who was tricked into leading his army into a terrible ambush in AD 9.*

Nero Claudius Drusus, Germanicus’ father, and a general who led extensive campaigns into Germany.*

Gaius, a soldier who owes money to Piso.

Gnaeus Aelius Gallo, a soldier taken prisoner by the Marsi.

Arimnestos, a Greek army surgeon.


Arminius, chieftain of the German Cherusci tribe, mastermind of the ambush on Varus’ legions, and sworn enemy of Rome.*

Maelo, Arminius’ trusted second-in-command.

Degmar, Marsi tribesman and former servant to Tullus.

Thusnelda, Arminius’ wife.*

Mallovendus, a chieftain of the Marsi tribe.*

Horsa, a chieftain of the Angrivarii tribe.

Inguiomerus, Arminius’ uncle and ally, and chieftain of a large faction of the Cherusci tribe.*

Gerulf, a chieftain of the Usipetes tribe.

Osbert, one of Arminius’ warriors.

Gervas, a Usipetes warrior who allies himself with Arminius.

Tudrus, a Dolgubnii warrior.

Segestes, Thusnelda’s father, ally of Rome, and chieftain of a faction of the Cherusci tribe.*

Adgandestrius, a chieftain of the Chatti tribe.*

Artio, orphan girl rescued by Tullus in Eagles at War.

Sirona, Gaulish woman and carer for Artio.

Macula, stray dog adopted by Piso.

Scylax, Artio’s dog.


Autumn, AD 15

Missing images

Near the Roman fort of Vetera, on the German frontier

AUTUMN SUNSHINE LANCED from a break in the banked cloud above, flashing off the Fifth Legion’s eagle. A sign from the gods, many would have said. Divine-sent or not, the beams drew everyone’s gaze to the glittering golden eagle. Senior Centurion Lucius Cominius Tullus was mesmerised. He forgot the nip of the gusting west wind, and stared. Perched on crossed thunderbolts with garlanded wings raised behind, held aloft by the bareheaded aquilifer, the eagle radiated power. The physical embodiment of the legion’s spirit and the sacrifices made by its soldiers, it demanded reverence, expected devotion.

I am your servant, thought Tullus. I follow you, always.

As ever, the eagle made no answer.

Patient, Tullus waited and watched. His answer came perhaps a dozen heartbeats later when the aquilifer shifted position. The sun’s rays again bounced off the eagle, this time searing Tullus’ eyes. Blinking, awestruck, he repeated his oft-made vow to serve the eagle unto death. Before he’d finished the silent oath, his heart wrenched. Loyal as he was, the Fifth’s eagle wasn’t the standard about which he dreamed, nor the one which dragged him night after night, sweat-soaked and with racing pulse, from sleep.

Tullus’ soul would always belong to the eagle of the Eighteenth, his legion for a decade and a half. The legion had been annihilated with two others six years before by Arminius, a Cherusci chieftain and one-time ally of Rome. Although Tullus had survived the bloodbath, dragging with him a handful of his soldiers, the mental scars it had left pained him yet. He lived for revenge on Arminius, but stronger still was his desire to recover the Eighteenth’s eagle. One of the three lost standards had just been recovered, fanning hot his heartfelt wish.

A man coughed behind him, dragging Tullus to the present, and the parade. At his back, arrayed cohort by cohort to his left and right, were the soldiers of the Fifth. At right angles to the Fifth and forming the second side of a square, were the men of the Twenty-First, Vetera’s other legion. The square’s third side was made up of the fort’s auxiliaries, a mixture of skirmishers, infantry and cavalrymen. Only the sentries, those away on official duty and the patients in the hospital had been excused from the parade.

Everyone was ready and waiting. They were no longer eager, thought Tullus, studying his men’s expressionless faces, but it was hard to blame them for that. The cold out here was ball-tightening. Cloaks had been banned, for Germanicus wanted his troops looking their best, gleaming armour and weapons on view. The parade’s purpose was to celebrate the army’s brutal campaign in Germania, which had ended a month before. As well as honouring senior officers whose actions had stood out, the governor Germanicus would recognise individual soldiers’ bravery. Tullus wasn’t fond of ceremony, but after the summer’s heavy casualties, occasions such as this were a morale boost for the men.

Another vicious blast of wind whistled by, raising goose bumps on his arms and legs. The last thing I need is men coming down with a chill, he thought, giving a loud order allowing his soldiers to stamp their feet and move about on the spot. He did the same for thirty heartbeats, and after checking for signs of Germanicus – there were still none – Tullus took the opportunity to pace along the ranks and engage in a little banter with his men, and to see that the cohort’s five other centurions were happy.

Life had not been kind afterwards to the soldiers who had survived the ambush laid by Arminius; the majority had been split up from their comrades when they’d been transferred to other units. Matters had been made worse for Tullus by Tubero, a malevolent tribune of whom he’d fallen foul. Stripped from the rank of senior centurion of the Eighteenth’s Second Cohort, Tullus had been reduced to an ordinary centurion in the lowlier Seventh Cohort of the Fifth, his new legion. It had taken five years and recognition by Germanicus before Tullus had been promoted again to his current position, commanding the Seventh Cohort.

After the disaster, Tullus had also been shorn of most of the troops he’d saved. Caedicius, one of Tullus’ few senior-ranking friends, had ensured that not all were moved into other units, and he gave thanks for that mercy every day. Foremost among his old soldiers was his wiry, ginger-haired optio Marcus Crassus Fenestela. Piso and Metilius were two others, brave and resourceful legionaries – Tullus acknowledged them both with a word before moving on.

The soldiers of his new century were much the same as any men he’d led, Tullus thought, studying their faces. There were a few outstanding individuals, and a central core of good men, with a larger number of average ones. As was inevitable, he had a handful of bad soldiers too: layabouts and malcontents. Ruled with an iron fist, they still played their part. As an entire unit, his men were formidable. They had served with distinction and not a little bravery in the just-ended punishing campaign. Tullus was proud of them, but admitted that on rare occasions. Scant praise worked best.

Trumpets called from the fort’s ramparts, some quarter of a mile distant. ‘Chins up, chests out. Shields straight and javelins planted,’ he barked. ‘Germanicus is coming!’

‘Will he be giving us anything, sir?’ called a voice from the rear ranks.

‘A cash donative?’ a second man was quick to add. ‘Or some wine, maybe?’

Centurions often punished soldiers who spoke out of turn, but Tullus was cut from different cloth. It was cold, they’d been here for more than an hour – in his mind, these were reasonable questions. ‘Don’t be expecting money, brothers,’ he answered, smiling at the responding groans. ‘This century, this cohort, didn’t do enough to warrant that. Wine isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, though.’ They rumbled low-throated approval, and grinned like fools when he told them there’d be wine in any case – from him. ‘It will be a small gesture, brothers,’ said Tullus, striding back to his position at the very right of the front rank. ‘You did well this summer gone.’

Everyone’s eyes were now on the track that led to the fort, and the approaching party of riders. Close behind the horsemen came a cohort of Praetorians, a unit of Germanicus’ imperial bodyguards. When the first horsemen were two hundred paces out, the camp prefect made a prearranged gesture. Tullus and every senior centurion issued an order to their cohort’s trumpeters. A welcoming fanfare shredded the autumnal air. Repeated several times, it died away with perfect precision as Germanicus reached the low platform set on the fourth side of the great square parade ground. The Praetorians took up positions on either side of the platform.

A collective sigh rose at the sight of their commander, whose regal appearance demanded respect, even a degree of fear. He was an impressive figure, Tullus had to admit. Tall, well built and with a commanding presence lessened not at all by distance, Germanicus’ armour shone as if burnished by the gods themselves. A red sash around his middle marked him out as a general. He was also the governor of Tres Galliae and Germania. Cynics could have called him – in secret – a pretty-boy nobleman playing at soldiering, but Germanicus was far from this. Blessed with good leadership skills, courage, charisma, and a ruthless streak as wide as the River Rhenus, he made an excellent leader.

On a less formal occasion, the legionaries might have cheered Germanicus, but today a reverent silence reigned as he climbed the steps on to the platform and was greeted by his senior officers.

Tullus smiled as the camp prefect offered Germanicus a seat, and the general declined. He’s about to address his troops, thought Tullus with stirring pride. What kind of leader does that sitting on his arse?

‘Brave legionaries of the Fifth and Twenty-First Legions. Courageous auxiliaries of Rome,’ cried Germanicus, his voice carried by the wind. ‘Fine soldiers of the empire all, I greet you!’

‘GER-MAN-I-CUS!’ upwards of twelve thousand voices answered, Tullus’ among them. ‘GER-MAN-I-CUS!’

‘We crossed the Rhenus in the spring, we and thousands of others,’ declared Germanicus. ‘Forty thousand imperial troops, of one mind. We marched into enemy territory to avenge our dead, the general Varus and his legions, cruelly murdered by Arminius and his treacherous henchmen. We marched to crush the tribes who still resist Rome’s rule, and to kill Arminius. We marched to recover the three eagles lost to the enemy.’ Germanicus stilled the soldiers’ acclaim with a raised hand. ‘To an extent, we succeeded. Several tribes were vanquished – the Marsi, the Chatti and the Bructeri. The retrieval of the Nineteenth Legion’s eagle is a cause for great celebration.’

Riotous cheering broke out. Masterful at working a crowd, Germanicus again let the troops express their happiness.

Old bitterness gnawed at Tullus, for the job hadn’t been finished. He could never rest until the Eighteenth’s eagle had been brought home. Nor would he be satisfied until Arminius, the man responsible for its loss and the annihilation of Tullus’ men, was dead. Blood for blood, he thought, imagining Arminius under his blade. The traitor – once an ally of Rome – had to pay for what he’d done.

‘Despite our successes, and the good fortune that saw the safe return of our soldiers, much was left undone,’ Germanicus said when the noise had abated. ‘Another campaign beckons us next spring. I will again lead you over the river, to victory. Arminius and his ragtag band of followers will be overcome and slain, and the two remaining eagles found. Rome will emerge triumphant!’ He raised his right fist high.

‘RO-MA! VIC-TRIX!’ bellowed a hundred voices among the Fifth’s ranks.

The call was taken up with gusto. It echoed around the training ground and rose into the windy sky, a clamouring bank of sound that seemed to challenge the gods themselves. ‘RO-MA! VIC-TRIX! RO-MA! VIC-TRIX!’

Germanicus watched with a satisfied expression, and Tullus thought, He’s a smart one. His words are perfectly pitched. The soldiers’ devotion to him will be increased by the presentation of awards for bravery followed by a large issue of wine. He’ll be able to do no wrong for months.

The senior officers were first to be honoured. Caecina, the veteran commander of the troops on the lower Rhenus, who had led four legions out of a terrible ambush on the way home that summer, was presented with the full raiment of a triumphant general. Caecina’s pleasure was clear as Germanicus bestowed on him the gold laurel wreath, ivory baton, embroidered tunic and purple toga. Apronius, one of the legion legates, was recognised in similar fashion. To Tullus’ annoyance, Tubero – newly appointed legate of the Fifth – was rewarded with a gold coronet.

Although the soldiers had cheered for the more senior officers, their response was much louder for the next group who had distinguished themselves, the centurions and lower-ranked officers. Tullus watched with approval as upwards of a dozen men were called forward by Germanicus and rewarded with phalerae – gold or silver disc ornaments worn on a chest harness – or torques of the same precious metals. After the final man had been honoured, Germanicus paused.

An expectant hush fell. It was time for the most valiant legionaries and auxiliaries to be recognised, thought Tullus, glancing at his men’s eager faces.

‘Before I mention you brave soldiers of Rome,’ announced Germanicus to excited shouting, ‘I have one other officer to call on.’ Again he stopped. This time, a complete silence descended, leaving the squalling wind as the only voice.

This award – separate from the awards granted to the centurions – was breaking from the usual protocol. Intrigued, Tullus listened with the rest.

‘Senior Centurion Lucius Cominius Tullus, of the Seventh Cohort, Fifth Legion, present yourself!’ Germanicus’ shout boomed across the training ground.

Stunned, Tullus wondered if he had misheard. He could feel his soldiers’ gaze boring into him, however, and could hear their delighted muttering. Shit, he thought. I’m not imagining it. Half a dozen heartbeats pounded by. On the dais some two hundred paces away, Germanicus waited.

‘Best get up there, sir,’ hissed Piso to Tullus.

He snapped back to the present. Self-conscious and already worried that his delay would have offended Germanicus, he stepped forward. Stiff-backed, guts churning, Tullus marched towards the platform, the weight of thousands of men’s eyes upon him.

At the regulation ten paces’ distance, Tullus snapped to attention, fixing his stare on Germanicus’ midriff. ‘Senior Centurion Tullus, Seventh Cohort, Fifth Legion, sir!’ he cried.

Standing on the platform emphasised the general’s great height – he towered over Tullus. ‘You took your time, senior centurion,’ Germanicus said with a frown.

‘I did, sir,’ Tullus faltered. ‘I was surprised to be summoned. My apologies.’

Germanicus’ lips twitched. ‘Apology accepted.’

He thinks it’s funny, Tullus realised, unsure whether to be relieved or annoyed.

Germanicus’ expression became formal again. ‘Soldiers of Rome,’ he shouted. ‘Senior Centurion Tullus is a man known to many of you. A veteran officer, he has served the empire for more than three decades. Until six years ago, he was in the Eighteenth Legion. When disaster befell that unit and two others at the Saltus Teutoburgiensis, almost every soldier of Varus’ command fell or was taken prisoner by the enemy. Not Tullus. Like a hero of old, he battled on for days, although it seemed as if the gods wished every Roman in that cursed place to die. Fewer than ten score men escaped the massacre, most of them in ones and twos. Tullus brought to safety fifteen. Fifteen! Legionaries whose honour was intact, who lived to fight another day!’

Fresh cheers rose.

More embarrassed than he had ever been, Tullus’ hope that Germanicus was done came to nothing as the general drew a fresh breath.

‘Senior Centurion Tullus and his men remained loyal through the difficult times after our divine father Augustus’ death. He risked his life then to save my person from danger.’ A still uncomfortable subject, Germanicus didn’t mention the previous year’s bloody rebellion further, but continued, ‘In the campaign that has just ended, Tullus distinguished himself on more than one occasion, in particular during the difficult battle on the Long Bridges road. These acts were not the first occasions in which Tullus has marked himself out as a leader, as a true son of Rome – the number of phalerae on his harness are proof of this. His soldiers love him, and would march with him into hell if he ordered it. He has the respect of his fellow centurions, and the regard of the tribunes and legates of more than one legion. I can think of no finer officer, no greater embodiment of virtus, than the man before me now.’ Germanicus extended his hands towards Tullus, palms up in recognition.

A moment’s pause, and then from across the training ground came a loud cry of ‘TUL-LUS! TUL-LUS!’

Tullus’ heart wrenched. Those were his soldiers’ voices – he would have staked his life on it. To his astonishment, the refrain was taken up, first by the Fifth’s other legionaries, and then by those of the Twenty-First. Even the auxiliaries joined in.


‘Tullus.’ Germanicus’ tone was commanding. Irresistible.

He lifted his head and met Germanicus’ gaze. ‘Sir?’

‘If Rome had ten thousand men like you, it would conquer the entire world.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ replied Tullus, fighting to keep his voice from choking.

The cheering had died down, and Germanicus raised a hand for greater quiet. ‘In recognition of Tullus’ valiant service to the empire, he is to be promoted. Henceforth he will be known as Centurion Tullus of the Second Century, First Cohort, Fifth Legion!’


If it hadn’t been for the troops’ roars of approval, and the wind chilling his face, Tullus would have believed himself in a fantastic dream. This was a huge promotion. He gave Germanicus his best parade salute. ‘You do me great honour, sir!’

‘The honour is mine, Tullus.’ Germanicus’ tone was solemn. ‘I will have need of you again in the spring. Arminius and his allies must be defeated – and your legion’s eagle salvaged from the enemy.’

‘I’ll be ready, sir,’ said Tullus, bursting with pride.


Missing images

Winter, AD 15

Near the Roman fort of Vetera, on the German frontier

Chapter I

Missing images

TULLUS WAS WANDERING through the settlement near his camp, Vetera. Blue skies and sun aside, it was a bitter winter’s day; the icy air stung as he breathed in. A thick layer of snow decorated every house’s roof and the narrow alleys between; brown slush coated the paved streets. Every passer-by, whether civilian and military, wore a cloak. Even the stray dogs had a hunched, miserable look to them. In spite of the chill, Tullus’ mood was good. He was off duty, and back in the fort; everything was as it should be with his men. There was more to it than that, he decided. Since returning from the eastern side of the Rhenus three months before, life had been easy, slow – mundane.

Boredom was a better state to exist in than living under threat of attack night and day, which was how he and his men had spent the summer’s campaign. Tullus put from his mind the blood-drenched memories. Today he was going to relax, first with a soak and a massage in the settlement’s new-built baths. Afterwards, he’d savour good food and drink in his favourite local inn, the Ox and Plough.

The thought of its proprietor Sirona brought a smile to Tullus’ lined face. A feisty, warm-hearted Gaulish woman, she had a fine figure and a temper to match any centurion’s. He’d been chasing her on and off for years, and always been rebuffed. Tullus had decided in the end that a man had to keep his pride. Sirona was a lost cause, despite the access granted to him thanks to her care of Artio, his surrogate daughter. Although Tullus’ wooing had ceased, the passage of time had not seen the embers of his passion go cold.

When he’d come marching over the bridge from Germania, three months back, the Fates had smiled on him at last. Sirona’s smile for him then would have lit a dark room. Thus encouraged, Tullus had been swift to renew his suit. The first mistake had been to start after he’d consumed a decent quantity of confidence-boosting wine, the second his attempt to kiss Sirona at the same time. He could still feel the ringing slap she’d delivered to his cheek. Ten days had passed before a humiliated Tullus was allowed to re-enter her inn, and another twenty until relations had been restored to something near their previous cordiality.

‘More haste, less speed.’ Kicking at an untouched clump of pristine snow, he decided that marching to war was easier than trying to understand women.

‘Centurion,’ cried a passing legionary, saluting, and Tullus forgot Sirona. Images of the awards ceremony a month before filled his mind. It continued to feel strange that Germanicus had seen fit to elevate him to the post of second-ranking centurion in the First Cohort, and yet there it was – it had happened. Years back, when Tullus had led the Second Cohort of the Eighteenth, such an advancement had seemed possible, but the ignominy of having survived Arminius’ ambush had snuffed out his career opportunities. Germanicus had seen something in him, however, and his recent recognition had made Tullus more senior to every centurion in the legion apart from the primus pilus.

The parading legionaries’ loud acclaim when Germanicus had finished speaking had deeply touched Tullus. Feeling awkward even at the memory, he glanced about. No one was looking of course, and he chuckled at himself. The smith over yonder was too busy hammering, and his apprentice watching, to pay heed to a passing soldier. The same applied to the cooper fitting iron rings to a new barrel, and the swearing carpenter whose saw had slipped, taking the skin off his knuckles. Other passers-by, cloaked and hooded, paid no heed either, keen as they were to reach their destinations.

Even the barefooted, skinny urchin sidling towards Tullus had his own purpose. ‘Spare a coin, sir?’ he pleaded.

Tullus’ usual response would have been to stride by with a curse, but the boy’s hollowed, chapped cheeks and twig-like limbs stirred his sympathy. I’m getting old and sentimental, he thought, searching in his purse and plucking out not just a copper as, but a silver denarius. ‘Get some hot food in you,’ he ordered. Sunlight winked off the coins as they spun through the air. ‘Buy yourself a cloak or a pair of shoes as well.’

Even as the urchin’s face twisted with delight – ‘A thousand blessings on you, sir!’ – his eyes flickered to the left.

Tullus’ gaze followed the boy’s, and he swore under his breath. Lounging against a shopfront was another urchin. This one was well fed, three times the size of the starveling before him, and his smirk revealed that he’d seen what had gone on. The instant that Tullus had moved on, he would take the coins for his own. Twig Limbs would be powerless to resist.

Tullus’ anger flared, and he strode forward, trapping the better-fed urchin against the shop wall with the head of his vitis, or vine stick.

A loud squawk. ‘I haven’t done nothing, sir!’

‘But you would have, maggot. You were going to steal my money from him, weren’t you?’ demanded Tullus, jerking his head at Twig Limbs, who was watching with eyes the size of plates.

‘No, I wasn’t, sir! I—’ The urchin’s protest turned into an oomph of pain as Tullus’ vitis drove partway into his belly.

‘Don’t lie to me.’ Tullus’ flinty gaze, used to making hardened soldiers recoil, bored into the urchin. He was quick to look down, and Tullus hissed in his ear, ‘If anyone lays a finger on that boy, or takes his coins – that means you and your lowlife cronies – I will hunt you down, and by all the gods, you’ll regret the day you were whelped. D’you understand?’

‘Yes, sir.’ The urchin’s tone was two notes higher than it had been. ‘I won’t go near him, sir, on my mother’s life.’

Tullus lowered his vitis, allowing his victim to scuttle away. The boy didn’t dare to look back.

Tullus waited until he’d gone, and wasn’t surprised that Twig Limbs was still standing there, hero worship filling his eyes. ‘Gratitude, sir. He’s a nasty one. He—’

Wishing to keep his distance, Tullus cut him off. ‘Don’t share that money with anyone.’

‘I won’t, sir, and if I can ever help …’ Twig Limbs’ voice died away as his confidence did. His shoulders slumped.

Knowing he meant well, Tullus gave him a clout on the shoulder and walked away. Urchins like Twig Limbs were as plentiful as the stars in the sky. He couldn’t help them all, nor did he want to, and there was no point getting close to one, or he’d never have any peace. Like as not, his gesture meant that he would be descended upon every time he entered the settlement from now on, for Twig Limbs would surely blab about his unexpected windfall to his friends. Or perhaps he wouldn’t, Tullus decided. The fewer people who knew, the more chance the boy would keep his money.

Thoughts of street urchins made Tullus feel his purse, checking that it hadn’t been slit. A pleasing quantity of coins lay within – Germanicus’ recognition had included a sizeable cash donative. Spurred by his recent near experiences with death, Tullus was in the mood to begin spending his reward – but on what, he wasn’t sure. His armour and equipment was of fine quality, and not in need of replacement. His calf-length boots were only two years old, and worn though his metalled belt was, he was attached to it. His polished vitis was like an extension of his right arm, and would see him into grey-bearded dotage.

On impulse, he stopped by a jeweller’s premises, not something he’d ever done, and there browsed the display. Most of the goods were simple, low-priced items: the bronze ram’s head bracelets, phallus and tiny gladius amulets favoured by legionaries, and the polished stone necklaces worn by their women. Higher-priced trinkets had been placed further back, close to the keen-eyed shopkeeper; more were on display in the shop. Reluctant to enter – what did he know about jewellery? – Tullus leaned forward to study some pearl earrings, a carnelian bracelet and a selection of silver necklaces. Frustrated, for he had no idea what Sirona would like, and too proud to ask, he walked away.

‘Sir?’ called the proprietor, a round-shouldered old Gaul with a silver beard. ‘Can I be of help, sir?’

Tullus turned, feeling as awkward as if he’d been caught thieving. ‘I need a present, for a lady friend.’

‘You’ll find something delightful here, sir, I promise you! Won’t you step inside?’

Tullus would have rather attacked a German shield wall, but he did want a present for Sirona, and there was less chance of being seen or recognised off the street. Almost able to hear his fellow centurions’ jokes – ‘Buying trinkets for your lover now, Tullus?’ ‘Sirona let you get your leg over at last, eh?’ – he ducked his head to avoid the low lintel and went in.

The premises were larger than they looked from outside, a long room part filled with display cases and cabinets, with worktables manned by busy craftsmen at the back. ‘I can’t stay long,’ he said, suspecting from the shopkeeper’s smooth manner that he was practised at keeping customers on his premises until they bought something.

‘Your time is precious, sir, I know that. You do me honour even to cross the threshold,’ the jeweller said, and bowed.

Tullus raised an eyebrow. There was no mistaking that he was an officer – the cut of his clothing and armour would tell anyone that, but the old man had no reason to think that he was anything more than a veteran optio, or perhaps a low-ranking centurion. Nonetheless, thought Tullus, it paid to be cautious. If the jeweller had the slightest inkling of his rank, everything in the place would triple in price.

‘Just so you know, my purse is light,’ said Tullus. ‘Payday isn’t for another while yet.’

‘There are beautiful pieces to suit every taste, sir,’ replied the jeweller with impressive diplomacy. ‘How much were you thinking of spending?’

This was his opening gambit, thought Tullus, but two could play at that game. ‘Show me your wares first. You can tell me their prices as I look. Start with those bracelets.’

‘Of course, sir.’ The jeweller wasn’t quite able to hide his disappointment.

I was right, Tullus decided. The rogue is out to fleece me. Sure enough, the cost of the bracelets – a fine variety made from silver, gold, agate, red coral and even amber – was exorbitant. It was no better with the earrings and necklaces. ‘Stop,’ he ordered as the jeweller moved on to a gold filigree diadem encrusted with tiny gemstones. ‘What do you think I am, a legate?’

The jeweller’s smile was sly. ‘No, sir, a centurion, newly promoted to the First Cohort.’

‘You recognise me?’ demanded Tullus, surprised.

The jeweller looked scandalised. ‘You’re a famous man, sir! Everyone in the settlement knows you, and how you survived the ambush on Varus and his legions. You’re a hero, sir.’

Tullus’ cheeks were warm now, which he didn’t like one bit. ‘Don’t believe everything you hear.’

‘Germanicus saw fit to honour you, sir.’

Defeated by this, Tullus threw him a glare. ‘I did what anyone would have.’

‘As you say, sir.’ In spite of his previous acquisitive manner, there was respect in the jeweller’s voice. ‘It goes without saying that a man of your stature would receive a good discount.’ He reeled off the pieces which Tullus had lingered over, reducing their cost by a third or more.

Tullus chuckled, amused by the jeweller’s performance and sure that he would still make a healthy profit. Trusting his gut instinct, Tullus studied again the items that had first caught his eye and settled on a simple yet elegant bracelet fashioned from four silver plaits. A short but intense spell of haggling saw him beat the old man down to half his original price without looking too unhappy. Tullus was also content, and bargaining any harder would take more of his time than he was prepared to give.

‘Your lady friend will love this,’ the jeweller pronounced, slipping the bracelet into a soft goatskin bag. ‘Perhaps you can visit with her one day.’

Tullus grunted, yet unsure that his gift would even be accepted, let alone received well. This approach had to be better than trying to make physical advances, he thought. Didn’t it?

There was a distinctive crack as two heads collided, and Tullus glanced outside. Two men travelling in opposite directions had walked into one another. Angry shouts and insults were hurled as both denied responsibility for the accident. Uncaring, for neither were soldiers, Tullus was about to pay the shopkeeper when he caught a glimpse of a familiar face. It was one he hadn’t seen for months, and which he would not have expected to see on this side of the Rhenus. ‘Degmar?’ he cried. ‘Is that you?’

The young Marsi warrior stared into the shop with an amazed expression. There was no question it was Degmar – Tullus would have recognised him anywhere – but rather than give any acknowledgement, he darted down an alleyway opposite.

‘Here.’ Tullus slapped down some coins, snatched up his bracelet and made for the door.

‘Sir?’ The jeweller’s confused voice carried after Tullus as he shoved his way across the busy street. A carter who had to wrench on his oxen’s traces to avoid striking Tullus cursed, then realised he was an army officer and somehow converted the oath into a strangled mutter.

Degmar was already a dark shadow, far down the alley, and Tullus swore to himself. The warrior had a head start and twenty years on him. There was not a chance that he’d catch up, let alone find Degmar in the maze of back streets. All the same, Tullus took a few steps into the alleyway. The stink of human waste, thick and cloying, brought him to an abrupt halt. He spat in frustration. Degmar was gone, and covering his boots in shit and piss would do nothing but annoy him further.

Gripping Sirona’s present, he made for the Ox and Plough. His good mood remained, but it was tinged now with unease. What purpose had Degmar in Vetera, and why had he run?

Chapter II

Missing images

SIRONA WAS WELL pleased with her bracelet, which relieved and delighted Tullus in equal measure. Her manner towards him warmed by a considerable amount, and she had allowed him to peck her on the cheek before he left that evening. Cocky as a stripling youth after his first kiss, Tullus marched back to the camp, all thoughts of Degmar forgotten. The following morning, real life and his duties brought him down to earth, and he recalled the chance sighting of his former servant.

During spring the previous year, Tullus had helped to rescue Degmar’s family prior to their village being destroyed by the legions. The dangerous mission had been a success, but Tullus and Degmar had parted on strained terms. He hadn’t ever expected to see the Marsi warrior again – Degmar hated Rome and all it stood for – which made his presence in the settlement even odder. Keen for another opinion, Tullus decided to confide in Fenestela. The pair had served together for half their lives, and trusted each other inside and out.

Their adjoining quarters made frequent meetings easy. Orders from on high had to be passed on daily; problems that one or other had encountered with the quartermaster or senior officers often had to be discussed. The pair convened to share camp news and gossip; sometimes it was just for a bite to eat, or a cup of wine. ‘We’re like an old married couple,’ Tullus was wont to mutter. Fenestela’s sarcastic response was always, ‘Without any fun under the blankets.’

Tullus went to Fenestela’s door at the earliest opportunity the next morning, a short time after the men had been up. This initial period involved Fenestela hounding the soldiers from their beds with dire threats, and was followed by a hiatus for ablutions and the day’s first meal. Fenestela often breakfasted with the other junior officers, while Tullus tended to eat on his own. If he’s not alone now, thought Tullus, hammering on the door, I’ll tell him on the threshold.

Fenestela smiled as he saw who his visitor was. ‘Come in,’ he said, stepping aside.

‘You alone?’

‘Aye,’ said Fenestela, frowning. ‘Why?’

Tullus strode in without answering, his eyes raking the room, but there was no one else present. Like him, Fenestela had simple tastes. A plain table with a gaming board atop it and four chairs filled the chamber’s central area. The other items of furniture were a couple of wooden chests and a stand for Fenestela’s armour. Tullus’ bedroom was just as plain.

‘D’you not believe me, sir?’ Fenestela’s tone was irritated. Long comradeship and mutual respect meant that he only ever used the term when others were about, or when he was annoyed with Tullus.

‘I do.’

‘What’s going on then?’

‘I saw Degmar yesterday.’

‘Degmar?’ Fenestela’s face now registered shock. ‘Where?’

‘In the settlement.’

‘Did you speak with him?’

‘He took off like a scalded cat the instant he saw me.’

‘How strange.’ Despite the early hour, Fenestela poured a measure of wine into two cups and handed one to Tullus, who didn’t refuse.

‘He’s up to no good,’ said Fenestela. ‘What else can explain such behaviour?’

‘We need to talk to him.’ Tullus was unhappy that his suspicions had been confirmed.

‘Easier said than done,’ said Fenestela, his customary scowl returning. ‘He’ll be lying low somewhere, or already headed over the river.’

‘There’s no point in going to the legate, or anyone else – a chance sighting of one tribesman is proof of nothing.’ Tullus threw back the wine.

‘Where were you when you saw him?’

Tullus hesitated, and then admitted, ‘In a jeweller’s.’

‘A jeweller’s?’ It was galling how much surprise, amusement and sarcasm Fenestela could pack into two words.

‘What of it?’ snapped Tullus.

Fenestela’s lips twitched. ‘So you were in this jeweller’s, and Degmar was on the street.’

‘Aye. That’s why he didn’t see me straight away, and how he got a head start when I called out.’

‘Sure it wasn’t because you had to finish buying whatever it was you’d chosen for Sirona?’ A tiny chortle escaped Fenestela.

‘I’d paid for it already!’ cried Tullus, angry to feel so embarrassed.

It?’ asked Fenestela, innocent-faced.

‘A bracelet – as if it’s any of your cursed business!’ Tullus retorted. ‘Have you heard all you want yet, or can we talk about Degmar?’

‘Best return to serious matters. I can weasel more information about Sirona out of you later,’ said Fenestela with a wink.

‘If you ever find a woman – not that that’s likely, you dog – know that I’ll never let you hear the end of it,’ threatened Tullus.

‘I wouldn’t expect anything less,’ said Fenestela, laughing. ‘Now, back to Degmar. As you said, there’s no point going to anyone more senior.’

‘Aye. As usual, it’s us who must keep our eyes peeled and our ears pricked.’ The situation was depressing, and familiar. Before the fateful ambush six years before, the general Varus had refused to listen to Tullus’ suspicions about Arminius, and the subsequent massacre had seen three legions annihilated. More recently, Tullus’ former cohort commander had rubbished his fears of mutiny among the local troops. Within days, four legions had risen up in rebellion.

‘I’ll have Piso and the old guard stay alert too.’

Tullus nodded, pleased. Piso and most of the men he’d saved during Arminius’ ambush were in his new century. It had gone against army regulations for them to move with him, but Tullus had enough high-ranking people who were well disposed to him, or friends – Germanicus and the camp prefect Caedicius among them – to ask that it be done. Truth be told, Tullus wouldn’t have wanted his new command without Fenestela and the rest also transferring units. By this point Piso, Metilius and their comrades were as dear to Tullus as family.

He waved away Fenestela’s jug, which was hovering over his cup. ‘Later. There’s a day to get through first.’

‘I suppose,’ said Fenestela, sounding disappointed. ‘Best not to be drunk on duty. Doesn’t look good to the men.’

‘We can have a drop later, and a talk about Degmar.’

Tullus’ jovial tone belied his concerns, which had been multiplied by Fenestela’s reaction.

A warrior and hunter, and someone who hated Rome and everything it stood for, Degmar wasn’t in the settlement to trade. Tullus’ fears crystallised. Degmar was here to do ill.

Despite Tullus’ worries, nothing untoward happened. His men drilled and marched, and grumbled their way through unpopular tasks such as sentry duty, and felling and hauling trees for firewood. No one – not Tullus, Fenestela or the soldiers who’d been alerted – saw hide nor hair of Degmar in the settlement. The various inn- and brothel-keepers who had been slipped coins swore on their mothers’ lives that they hadn’t spotted him either. Even Twig Limbs, a willing recruit to Tullus’ cause, found no sign of the warrior.

If he had been seeking anyone else, Tullus might have decided he had imagined the encounter, but Degmar was the spitting image of a legionary whom he’d had to abandon during a vicious ambush in Illyricum years before. The man’s terrified face and the sound of his anguished cries were burned deep into Tullus’ memory. It had to have been Degmar. Several more days passed without incident, however. There had been no upsets in the settlement, no attacks on soldiers. Patrols returning from the east bank had reported nothing out of the ordinary. Arminius had to be plotting away, it was true, but he was hundreds of miles away in Cherusci territory. Life was moving on.

On the sixth afternoon, with his duties completed, Tullus decided he’d had enough. There was no way of discovering Degmar’s purpose and in the absence of further evidence, no leads to follow. Whatever the warrior had been up to, it was done, like as not. To help clear his mind of the matter, Tullus determined to visit the jeweller’s for a second time. His potential embarrassment was now outweighed by his desire to work his way further into Sirona’s affections. One of these days, she had to allow him into her bed, and despite Tullus’ inexperience at courting, another trinket wouldn’t harm his chances.

Before leaving for the settlement, he vacillated briefly over removing his mail. The old jeweller was no longer a factor, knowing Tullus’ rank, but remaining as he was – a cloak couldn’t quite hide his armour from the front – meant he ran a greater risk of being spotted entering or leaving the shop. In the end, Tullus’ further evening duties swayed him. It was more practical not to shed the cumbersome mail.

Checking his purse was full, he made for the door, vine stick in hand. Sirona would love today’s gift, he decided, which would be more expensive than the silver bracelet. The thought of her pleased reaction almost made him whistle, before he remembered that he was still within the fort, and that high-ranking centurions had to maintain a certain public air. Besides, he thought darkly, if Fenestela heard, he’d intuit Tullus’ reason, and the jokes about Sirona would never end.

Tullus was pleased to make it to the settlement without recognising many soldiers. That didn’t mean that he hadn’t been seen of course – he was well known – but there wasn’t anything to do about that. The weather was on his side at least. A cutting wind and heavy flurries of snow had driven people indoors and reduced visibility to less than twenty paces. Daylight was fading fast and even the main avenue, often jammed with pedestrians and wagons, was almost empty.

Tullus was unsurprised when Twig Limbs appeared before him, his feet encased in a pair of cheap leather sandals. Showing off his worn cloak – he’d got both for a low price, he told Tullus with great pride – he again offered his help should it ever be needed. Touched, Tullus slipped him a handful of low-denomination coins. With Twig Limbs’ thanks ringing in his ears, he made for the jeweller’s shop, which lay on a side street not far from the new forum and the bridge over the Rhenus. Not a soul – in particular, another soldier or officer – was to be seen as he reached it, which pleased Tullus.

The jeweller’s smile grew broad as he entered. ‘Terrible weather out there, sir.’

‘It’s not good,’ agreed Tullus, taking off his helmet.

Now recognising Tullus, the jeweller’s face lit up. ‘You’ve come back, sir!’

‘I have.’ Tullus set his helmet on a table.

‘May I assume that the lady was pleased with your gift, sir?’

‘Aye,’ said Tullus, already feeling uncomfortable.

‘And you wish to buy her another, sir?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Something …’ The jeweller trailed his fingers along the counter before him, stopping at the bracelets. ‘… like these, sir?’

‘No. I want a necklace this time, or some earrings.’ Tullus almost said, ‘Or both,’ but managed to bite his tongue. Better to keep the devious old goat guessing his intentions as long as possible.

‘One of my craftsmen has just finished this piece,’ the jeweller said, reaching behind him and lifting up a shimmering necklace of silver decorated with dozens of little garnets. ‘It’s quite beautiful, sir.’

Tullus was no judge of jewellery – Hades, he’d only been in this place once – but the necklace was stunning. The garnets would match Sirona’s dark brown eyes too, he thought. ‘How much?’

‘To you, sir, only fifty denarii.’

Tullus pulled his hand back. ‘Fifty?

‘The garnets are of the finest quality, sir. A great deal of time and expertise went into its making.’ He held out the piece again. ‘See for yourself.’

‘Fifty is too much,’ protested Tullus.

‘I’m sure we could come to an agreement.’ The necklace moved until it was under Tullus’ nose.

‘It is lovely,’ admitted Tullus, taking it from the jeweller’s grasp.

The unmistakeable tramp of hobnails drew Tullus’ attention to the street outside. He watched in some surprise as two Praetorian guardsmen marched past at pace. To his astonishment, they were followed by Germanicus himself. The governor was cloaked and hooded, but given away by his commanding profile and great height – and the protection he had. Another pair of guardsmen took up the rear, and then the party had passed the shop’s narrow window. ‘What’s he doing?’ Tullus muttered to himself.

The jeweller’s ears were long. ‘It’s not the first time I have seen the governor, sir. He visits the wine merchant a short distance down the street – the best for a hundred miles in any direction, or so the owner swears. Germanicus must like the stock there – he tends to come by once a month at least.’

Tullus chuckled. The notion that Germanicus went in person to taste wine would never have occurred to him. The governor had dozens of servants, flunkeys and staff officers – why not send one of them, or have samples brought to his quarters in the fort? Tullus had answered the question before he’d finished thinking it. Germanicus’ workload had to be staggering, his responsibilities onerous. A secret visit now and again to a wine merchant was an escape, a slice of normal life denied to a man in his position. Good luck to him, thought Tullus. Still amused, he returned his attention to the necklace. ‘It’s a beautiful piece, but fifty denarii is too expensive.’

‘What price would suit you, sir?’ the jeweller asked, his eyes narrowing.

‘Twenty.’ The figure was insulting, but Tullus wanted to see his reaction.

‘I couldn’t sell it for that, sir!’ The jeweller’s hands reached out as if to take it back before, a little embarrassed, he smoothed them down by his sides. ‘There’s the cost of the silver and garnets, and paying the craftsman to consider – that price would leave me with no profit at all. I have to make a living, sir.’

‘Of course you do. Twenty-five.’

‘Forty-five is as low as I could go, sir, and that’s being generous.’ The old man’s expression was pained.


‘Forty-two, sir.’


‘You’re robbing me, sir! Forty.’

‘Thirty-four, and that’s my final offer.’

‘No, sir.’