romans

CHAPTER 7

 Just before the end of Watch Four and the beginning of a new day, thirty-three legionaries slipped silently into position around the entire block owned by Soothsayer’s Wife Kigva. Legatus Ovid, the commander of the elite IX Hispana Legion that ruled over Northern Britannia was present to witness the first of many decrees that had arrived from the emperor. He knew that by the time the sun rose the area would be secure.

“We are ready, Sire,” Centurion Pholus saluted and stepped back to face his commander. “Not even a mouse will escape the cord we have placed around the block. The only lights are in the stable but that is to be expected at this time.”

Ovid nodded. “Once inside I want the druid’s wife, baby and daughter brought to me. The males including the baby will be arrested and the other female, a slave I believe, sent to the concubine for retaining.”

“Druid, Sire?”

“Yes Pholus. They are not soothsayers but are Druid Floyd’s third wife and eldest daughter.” He turned to the third man standing in the tent erected to keep the rain off them. “Have you anything to add, Bishop Eucid?”

The man dressed in the white robes of a high-ranking churchman stared at the legatus. “The girl may be his daughter but the woman is certainly not his third wife for we do not recognise multiple wives in our faith. The baby is a bastard and shall be treated as such.”

“Sent to the orphanage to be raised in the new ways?”

“No; executed before his mother to show that heathen ways will no longer be tolerated.”

Ovid grimaced. He did not like the bishop, a spineless bigoted man who knew nothing about keeping the locals peaceful. However, he had been ordered to obey the bishop’s suggestions as if they were an order from the emperor himself, so could not overrule him. That was why he was here in freezing rain about to arrest one of the most respected families in Luguvahum. They could be arrested but the good will of a generation with the local people would have gone. Riots would certainly follow.

He turned and gazed out the tent flap. At least the rain had stopped but dark clouds still hid the rising sun from view. “Do it!” he ordered Centurion Pholus.

At exactly the half past sunrise, auxiliaries swung a log into the front door of the house under attack. It splintered and crashed open. With swords drawn, twenty legionaries swarmed in to cover every room in the building. Noise was of no consequent now but when Ovid entered a few moments later, he frowned. He could hear footsteps, doors being smashed and a few harsh commands but where were the women’s screams? In an attack like this, high-pitched female screams usually covered every other sound.

A sergeant came down the stairs and saluted before reporting to Centurion Pholus who looked annoyed and barked an order. The sergeant saluted and disappeared back upstairs.

“Well?” Ovid asked in a stern voice.

“There are signs of a hasty departure but the house is empty, Sire.”

“What!”

“I have ordered every other house within our cordon searched.”

“But?”

“I believe they have gone, Sire. They knew we were coming!”

Legatus Ovid just stood there thinking before he spoke again. “Close all the city gates and mobilise every legionnaire in the city. Search every building and question everyone who has had contact with Soothsayer Kigva over the last week.” He purposely used her known title rather than the one the bishop had substituted. “Send messages for Hadrian’s Wall Gates to be closed and nobody allowed to enter or leave Britannia until I lift the ban.”

“Yes, Sire!” Phoebus saluted and stepped away.

Ovid glanced up as thunder rolled over the city and rain began to fall. He had recently been baptised in the new Roman religion and renounced all faith in the old gods but why was the thunder roaring now? Perhaps Taranis was up there protecting the family.  Deep inside, he was pleased at the outcome and believed they would not be found in the city. Probably by now, they were well on their way back north to the wall. He doubted if even closing the official gates would help. The druid had the capacity to come and go as he pleased and, no doubt, his family did, too.

“They’re what?’ thundered an angry voice from behind him.

“Gone. Your Grace,” Ovid stared at the bishop who stood there. “I believe the thunder helped.”

“Blasphemous!” Bishop Eucid growled but his face had gone white and hands shook. “I could have you executed for that statement.”

“But you won’t will you Bishop Eucid?” He held the other man’s eyes until he forced him to look away.

“You’re lucky we practise forgiveness,” the bishop retorted and walked out into the rain.

*

By three o’clock and mid-morning in Roman time, Ovid was back at the military headquarters discussing the failed raid with the angry bishop but couldn’t satisfy the man. The only indication of Kigva’s disappearance was the absence of her carriage and horses from the stable. The stable master had seen nothing but after a beating, one slave had confessed that he had helped prepare the horses and carriage for a long journey during Watch Three.

Centurion Pholus entered Ovid’s command office and waited to be asked to speak.

“So they have gone, Pholus; can you add anything of importance?”

“Two items Sire.  We have found a tunnel beneath the wall they left the city through and mud tracks show they are now on the old road heading south-west.”

“South-west, Pholus. Wouldn’t they head north to the wall?”

“The last remaining barbarian temple, The Temple of the Wheel of Life is in that direction. We believe that is their destination, Sire.”

“And are having them followed?”

“Yes Sire. All military units in this part of the your command area are on the alert and civilian police ordered to look out for them. It is only a matter of time.”

Legatus Ovid frowned. It sounded too easy! “And what was the second item Centurion?” he asked.

“We returned to Kigva’s house and made a second search. In her office, we found this tablet. He handed an ink tablet to Ovid. The tablet was beautifully scribed with a message written in two alphabets. Ovid couldn’t read the runic alphabet so moved his eyes down to the Latin translation. There was one sentence but the words made his whole body turn cold.

It read, ‘The dropped wheel will rise again when the child of the first brings the child of the third home.’

*

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About Ross

Ross Richdale is a New Zealand author of over 40 novels, both science fiction and contemporary that are sold as ebooks at all the major outlets.

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