The rain lashed down onto the tents of the Roman legion camped on the island of Britain. As a flash of lightening lit up the night sky Legate Marco looked out on the camp with a grimace.
“Bloody weather. Always the same on this Island. I don’t see why the Emperor wanted to conquer this shithole.” He said to himself, as he sipped from the goblet of heated wine he had cupped in his hands. The warm liquid did little to improve his mood. Marco had been on this island for almost two months now and was already sick of it. Not only was the weather cold and wet almost all the time, the islands occupants were savages who seem determined to kill Marco and his soldiers or die trying.
Marco shivered at the memory of the battle fought that day. Thousands of Celts had attacked the legion as they marched to meet the rest of the invasion force. Now only a few hundred of the Celts remained ready to be shipped back to Rome to serve as slaves. Yet it had not been an easy battle. The Celts were fierce warriors covered in war paint, and seemed to have no fear as they threw themselves against the Roman shields, slashing with their long swords even after taking a blade to the guts. But Roman discipline had won the day and the casualties were much lower than that of the enemy.
While Marco was lost in thought, a guard entered his tent stood to attention and saluted.
“Beg to report sir, Centurion Quintus here to see you.” Said the guard.
“Very good, show him in soldier.” The guard saluted and stood to the side of the tent flap as Centurion Quintus stepped into the tent and stood at attention and saluted before addressing his senior officer.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” he said in his deep voice, which was perfect for bellowing orders out. Quintus was the vision of the ideal soldier. Tall, with a large heavily muscular build. He had scars on most of his exposed flesh, including a recent addition running from the corner of his mouth down to his chin, which he received in one of the first battles of the island.
“Yes I did Quintus. Please sit.” Said Marco, indicating the seat opposite him. “Heated wine?” he asked as Quintus sat down.
“Yes thank you.” Quintus said as he sat down. There was silence as Marco poured another cup of wine and passed it to Quintus, who nodded his thanks before taking a sip.
“Now Quintus, I assume you’re wondering why I invited you here tonight?”
“Yes sir.” Quintus replied. It was not unusual for Quintus to be summoned to the Legate’s tent, but it was usually for meetings with all the centurions. After all Quintus was a Centurion of an auxiliary cohort, which meant he was not as highly ranked as the centurions of the Legion.
“Well, I have been ordered to send a cohort to scout the west side of the Island. I believe your cohort is the best of the auxiliary, so I have chosen you to undertake this task. There have been rumours that the tribes in the west don’t get along with the tribes we are currently fighting. I want you to make contact with the tribes and see if you can convince them to join us. If any of the tribes try to intimidate you with any kind of show of force I want you to wipe them out to send a message to the rest of the tribes. Understand?” Marco finished.
“Yes sir. When am I to leave?”
Marco smiled, “Tomorrow at first light.”
I gripped the axe tight and swung it with all my strength at my target. The axe head buried itself into the tree with a loud thud. I swung again and with a loud, splitting crunch the tree start to fall to the ground, where it landed with a loud crash. I looked around and saw that out of all the other boys I was one of the first to cut down the tree we had each been assigned. My names Cadfael, and I am one of the young men training to join the warriors of our tribe, The Silures.
At the age of seventeen I had almost finished my training to join our warriors. The training started at the age of ten and would last until my eighteenth birthday. Throughout my training I had been tested many times. Test of strength, speed, stamina, and weapon skills. It had been tough but that is what made our warriors the best of any tribe. I also had to deal with an extra burden during my training. I was the son of our tribe’s king, Gruffudd.
“Cadfael!” someone shouts. I look around and see my father walking towards. Typical of any tribal king he was a fierce warrior and looked the part. He was taller than most with broad shoulders and muscular arms. His eyes were sharp from years of training and battles. As most Celts he had heavily tattooed arms and chest. On his arm he had the tattoo of our family, which like me had received on the start of his training.
When he reached me I bowed my head respectively. “Yes sire?”
“You are to cut that tree to your height and then I want you to drag it back to the village.”
“Yes sire.” I say, bowing my head again. My father gives me a slight smile and a wink before moving on to repeat the order to the next one who felled his tree.
“I bet you wish you weren’t so tall now, do you?” Laughed Epedos.
Epedos was my best friend, and had been since we start our training together. He was of average height and build, while I was one of the largest in the village. Even though he wasn’t the biggest, Epedos was one of the best swordsman in the village. He could best most of the Warriors in a sword fight. However, because of the extra training my father had me undertake as a prince I could best him most times. A fact I always liked to use to annoy him.
“No I don’t. I’m not a little tosser like you. I can carry the extra weight.” I say with a smile.
He just laughs at that. “Well after this we can have some sword practice to see if you can still fight.” He says with a sly wink.
“An excellent idea.” My Father says from behind us, making us jump. “Seeing you two like to chat so much instead of doing your task, you can do an extra hour of sword training once you’ve finished. Now get a move on!”
“Yes, sire.” We both say together. My Father nods at us and walks off to the village with his royal bodyguards.
“What a fucking bastard.” I mutter to Epedos.
“Make that two hours.” My father shouts over his shoulder at us.
“Cadfael, you dick!” Epedos snaps at me.
“Put it this way; two hours might be enough time for you to actually beat me.” I say with a wink.
“Just Fuck off.” Epedos replies back before we both laugh. Then turning back to our trees we set to our task.
We arrived back at the village just before midday. The forest where we had been task to cut down the trees was over four miles away. Me and Epedos were among the first to arrive, so we dropped our tree lengths at the side of the training area and waited for the rest to arrive.
As we waited, I looked round at the village. It was the largest of the villages in our tribe, with over a thousand people living in the simple huts. Mine and my father’s hut was in the centre, and other than the fact it was slightly bigger it looked the same as the rest.
While I was looking around the village a figure emerged from one of the huts close to the training area. As I looked to see who it was, she turned round and I got a clear look at her and my heart leapt. It was Gwen. As she caught my eye she smiled and waved at me. I waved back causing a little snigger from Epedos. It didn’t bother me. Gwen was the most beautiful girl in the village. We were set to marry once we were both eighteen. However, that didn’t stop us from have the occasional roll in the stables.
Gwen came over to us, holding a cup in each hand. Once she reached us she gave me and Epedos a cup of water each.
“Here, my price.” Gwen says in a serious tone bowing her head.
“Thank you, my lady.” I say bowing my head as well. At this we both laugh.
Next to us Epedos is making vomiting noises. “By the Gods, can’t you do that when I’m not around? My stomach can’t take it.”
“Ooh shut up, Epedos. Don’t be Jealous now. I’m sure I could find someone for you, too.” Gwen says with a wink.
“No thanks. Unlike our Prince here I’d rather have more fun before I marry.”
I have to laugh. Epedos was known for his love of the young women of our village. It had caused him a bit of trouble from angry fathers in the past.
“It would be safer to settle down, Epedos. Even you can’t out run every father in the village.”
“No, but I would like to find out the hard way.” He says, with another wink. We all laugh at this.
Once the final man had returned, Gwen departed and me and Epedos fetched our wooden training swords and waited for our instructor. Our instructor was Dai, the best swordsman in the entire tribe. Or he had been in his youth. Now he rarely went into battle, preferring to pass on his knowledge to others.
Dai soon paired us off in groups according to our level. Me and Epedos were the two best so got paired together as usual and were told to practice while Dai went to help those who needed it more.
“So, ready for a beating, my Prince?” Epedos said mockingly, take up his fighting stance.
I took up mine and flashed him a cocky smile. “Bring it, bitch.”
With that he did. I blocked his first blow and had to duck quickly to avoid the next. As he brought his sword around to swing again I side stepped and slashed with mine. He barely had time to block it and the impact vibrated up his arm, making him grunt with the effort of holding onto his sword.
While our swords were locked together I kicked him in the chest dropping him to the ground. He rolled backwards and was on his feet again ready to meet my attack. I fainted to the right then attacked his left side catching him by surprise. I grazed the side of his face with the wooden sword causing more shock than pain. But I too was shocked as he kicked out at my front leg as I finished my swing causing me to lose balance and fall to the ground. Epedos believing me defeated thrusted his sword downing hoping for a finishing blow.
However, I quickly rolled out the way and his sword buried itself into the ground. While he struggled to free it I swung around on the floor and kicked the back of his legs out making him crash hard to the ground. I was quickly on him my sword at his throat.
“I win.” I said breathing hard.
“I almost got you.” He laughed also breathing hard.
“Almost isn’t good enough.” I laugh. I get back up and off Epedos my hand and pull him to his feet. “Want to try that again?” I ask innocently.
“Shut up and get ready.” He snaps, even though he’s trying not to smile.
“As you wish.” I say talking up position.
Training continues for another hour before Dai dismisses us. He then comes over to me and Epedos.
“I have been told you two volunteered for some extra training” he says with a grin.
“Of course, sir.” I reply. We both know my father was making us do it, but Dai would rather people thought we had volunteered than have been ordered. It made us all look better than the truth.
Dai went through a few new sword techniques and had us practice them on each other. We did this for a while, gradually increasing the speed and power until we had mastered the technique completely.
“Good, both of you.” he said as we caught our breath. “Now I want you each to attack me.”
Epedos went first and it wasn’t long before Dai had landed a fatal blow. I didn’t do much better. As I attacked with an upwards swing, Dai blocked it and brought his sword back up towards my head. I quickly swept my head back to avoid it. I then spun away out of his reach and readied myself for his next attack. I struggled to parry his blows and threw a few of my own. As I stabbed at his stomach, he parried my blow down to the ground. Before I could pull it back, Dai took one hand of his sword and smashed his elbow into the side of my jaw.
I took a step back dazed from the blow. Dai took the advantage and swung his sword down onto my hand, disarming me. He then pressed the blade to my throat.
“You’re dead.” He says with a little smile. He stoops and picks up my sword and passes it to me. “Keep your eyes sharp. The sword isn’t the only thing that can kill you in a fight.”
“I know.” I said, furious with myself. My jaws aching, but luckily no teeth were missing. “It’s just you’ve never hit me that hard before. I was stunned.”
Dai’s still smiling. “You’ve almost finished your training, so don’t expect me to pull any blows anymore.”
With that we carry on practicing until the two hours are up. Then we both return to our huts. Once I reach mine I strip off and slump onto my bed exhausted. I fall asleep at once. Little do I know it would be my last sleep in my own bed.
I’m roughly woken by my father shaking my shoulder.
“Cadfael, wake up!”
“Was wrong?” I mutter sleepily.
“There’s been reports of Romans approaching our village.”
I’m instantly up, all thoughts of going back to sleep gone. We had heard of the Romans returning to the east again, but we hadn’t heard anything about them making their way west, towards us.
“How far away?” I ask throwing my clothes on quickly.
“They will be here in a few hours. Luckily a few of the lads had gone hunting a few miles away or we would have had no warning.”
“What are we going to do?” I ask while fastening my sword belt around my waist.
“I’m planning on getting the women and children to go to one of the other villages for now. I’ll task a few men to escort them and warn the other villages.” He grabs my arm, and looks me in the eye. “I want you by my side, son.”
“Don’t worry father, I will be your translator.” My father had had me learn Latin from a Greek slave. He had always believed the Romans would invade our lands again and want me to be prepared for it.
My father shakes his head with a faint smile. “No son. I don’t ask you to be by my side as a translator. Other men could do that for me. No, I want you by my side in case we have to fight. I can’t think of a finer man to have at my side.” He finishes proudly.
My throat tightens with emotions. I quickly push them away, not wanting to seem weak. “It would be an honour, father.”
The village is abuzz with activity. Families pack up enough supplies to last them the journey to the next village. Weapons are sharpened or repaired. Prayers are made to Gods. Men say their goodbyes to their families before preparing themselves for battle.
As I’m checking my sword for any damages, Gwen rushes over to me and takes my hand in hers.
“Cadfael, please come with me.” she pleads, tears in her eyes.
“I can’t. My father asked me to fight at his side. I will not shame him by leaving. I’m sorry.” I say lowering my eyes.
She puts a hand on my cheek and lifts my head so I’m looking into her beautiful brown eyes. “please don’t leave me.”
I’m tempted to leave with her, but I know I would forever be shamed. So I steal myself.
“No, I can’t. But I promise you, on all the Gods, I will return to you.”
“I’ll wait for you.” She promises, before turning and joining her family.
“don’t worry.” Someone says from behind me. “you’ll see her again.”
I turn round to see Epedos standing there. He’s already limed his hair into spikes and applied his war paint. In his hand he has a bowl of the blue paste, and starts to apply it to my skin.
“I hope your right, my friend.” I reply. Then I frown. “why are you still here? I thought you would have helped escort the families away?”
Epedos’ chest swells with pride. “your father asked me to stay and fight. He said we were like brothers and wanted someone he could trust to watch your back.”
“well brother, I promise to watch your back too.” With that we share a quick smile, before we get back to readying ourselves.
Two hours later the Romans arrive.
Me, my father and Epedos are waiting for them, along with several hundred of our warriors. Even though all the village warriors are here, we are still out numbered. As we wait, I survey our enemy. The discipline was impressive. They all move together, sunlight glinting off highly polished armour, helmets, and shield bosses. Once they reached a distance less than half a mile away from our lines the halted.
Soon a group of men on horses rode towards us. they stopped halfway between the two sides. then one of the horsemen lifted his standard high, and waved it from side to side.
“I think they want to talk.” My father said to me. “you and Epedos come with me. if they try anything I want you to signal the attack. Understand”
“yes, Sire.” Me and Epedos answer. As I go inform the men, Epedos gathers horses for the three of us. once the men know the signal, I return to my father’s side. we all mount up and ride towards the group of Romans.
We stop twenty paces away and wait. There are five in all. Three wear the same armour and helmet. The standard bearer wears a bear skin over his armour. The fifth man wears a helmet with a horsehair crest. He is the one who greets us.
“Greetings, Friends. We are not here for a fight, we only want to talk.” He says in an arrogant tone, and speaks loudly and slowly as if addressing a simpleton. “Can you understand me?”
“Yes, Roman.” I answer. “me and the other lad speak Latin. However, my King here does not. Before you say another word I warn you; speak with the respect he deserves. Understand?”
The Roman looks at me in outrage. “and who would you be?”
I sit to my full height and puff out my chest before replying. “I am Prince Cadfael. This is Epedos.” I say indicating him.”And this is King Gruffudd, king of the Silures. And you will address me with respect as well, Roman. And who are you?”
“I am Centurion Quintus. Now that the introductions are finished can we get down to business?”
“Tell us why you have come here, Roman.” My father says, which I translate.
“I bring an offer of peace from Lucius Marco, Legate of the ninth legion. He wishes for you to join us in the fight against the tribes on the east side of the island. So why don’t you send your army away, and invite me and my men into your village so we can talk in comfort?” Quintus says, with a false smile on his face.
Once I translate, my father shakes his head before replying. “No Roman shall set foot in our village. As for your offer of joining you, we decline. As much as we dislike the tribes to the East, they do not try and rule us, unlike you Romans would. Now leave.”
“I must warn you,” Quintus replies, trying to control his outrage. “if you refuse to let us into your village, I have permission to take it by force. Now is your answer the same?”
As anger surges through me at this arrogant Roman, I move my horse forward until I’m up close to him. “I told you to show respect, Roman.” I snarl at him. “now you have heard my father, leave. If you decide to attack I will personally split your skull open with my sword. Now, go.”
Me and Quintus stare at each other, mutual hatred in both our eyes. Then I urge my horse around and ride back to our lines, my father and Epedos riding at my sides. Once there I dismount and take up my position in line, rage still pulsing through my body.
I see the group of Romans ride back to their lines. A little time late a horn sounds, and the Romans start to advance. At this I turn to face our men.
“My warriors,” I shout. They all stare to me. I start to feel nerves mixed with the anger and excitement. “these Romans wish to take our village from us. they wish for us to obey them. To join them. Well I say no! No we will not be ruled. We have the greatest warriors they have ever seen. We will crush them and send the few survivors back to warn every other Roman not to mess with the Silures!”
With that the men cheer and start to chant. “Silures, Silures, Silures.”
With adrenaline pumping through my veins, I turn back towards the Roman lines. As I do I catch my father’s eye.
“Said like I true king.” He says, pride in his eyes.
I smile at him, before drawing my sword. “kill them all!” I shout.
My cry is taken up by the rest of the warriors, then we charge.
As we close in on the Romans, an order is yelled from behind their lines. A second later another order is given and the Romans launch spear-like objects into the air. Once they reach the top of the arc they seem to stop in the air, before turning and falling towards us in a lethal storm of wood and iron.
Once I see them start to fall, I grab my father and pull him back. seeing me do this, Epedos stops too. A second later, the spear- like objects land. Many of our men are struck down, and cries of agony start to sound. Luckily me, my father and Epedos weren’t hit. I can see that the rest of the men have slowed down in hesitation. This was a mistake as another volley soon struck more down.
Fearing that there may be more volleys, I shout for the men to follow me and charge towards the Roman lines. As the fastest of our warriors hit the shield wall, they are stopped in their tracks. Soon men start to fall, either struck by the Roman’s heavy shields, or stabbed by the flickering swords that shoot out between the shields.
As I close on the shield wall, one of the men in front of me jumps, and kicks with all his strength at a shield. Seeing the Roman stumble under the impact, I race forward and throw my body weight against his shield. It works as the Roman is thrown back into the man behind him. I quickly turn and hack at the men either side of him. I catch the one man a blow to his leg, cutting straight through and dropping the man. As I swing at the man the other side, he side steps out of reach, which gives Epedos enough room to barge through the gap and hack at him.
Soon our warriors see the gap and start forcing their way through. Soon it is fighting man to man. I swing at a tall, slim built Roman. He gets his shield up in time to block it, but my sword splits the rim and gets stuck in his shield. As I try and pull it free, the Roman stabs at me. I quickly take my hand off my sword and grab his wrist with both hands, stopping his sword only inches from my stomach. With all my strength I twist his wrist backwards and push it up and away from me, forcing the blade into his throat. A look of shock crosses his face before he sinks to the ground, making obscene gurgling noises.
I quickly retrieve my sword and look for another opponent. I quickly sight my father fighting of a Roman. He seems to have the upper hand. I’m about to look away when I see another Roman moving towards him. as I start to make my way towards my Father, the Roman he’s fighting knocks him to the ground.
Regardless of the danger, I sprint towards the fight. As I reach it, I jump over my father and bring my sword down with all my strength onto the head of the approaching Roman, splitting his helmet and skull. I yank my sword clear, with a sound of iron on bone. I quickly turn and swing my sword at the other Roman. He blocks it with his shield. Before he can counter, my father sits up and stabs his sword into the Romans groin. As he doubles over in agony, I stab my sword into his side, breaking his ribs and piercing his heart.
Once I pull my sword free I take my father by the arm and pull him to his feet.
“Thanks.” He muttered. He looks around the ongoing battle before turning to me. “we have to retreat now!”
I look around and see what he means. Our men were getting slaughtered. Their bodies littered the ground. However, there was very few Roman bodies amongst them. I nod to my Father, telling him I agree. As he calls the retreat, I look for Epedos. He isn’t far away and I signal for him to join us, as we push our way back through the fighting.
“we got to protect the king.” I tell him. He nods and we take off, running either side of my Father, every now and then looking over our shoulders to see how far the Romans are behind us. I then notice Quintus near the front of the lines, on his horse barking orders. Hatred flares through my veins. I manage to resist the urge to turn around and charge for him. just.
I turn back and concentrate on running. However, there is a sudden whoosh of parting air and a cry from my right. I stop and turn, and am horrified to see my father with one of those spear-like objects through his hip. I quickly rush back to him, dropping to my knees as I grip the wooden handle.
My father lets out a cry of agony. “Don’t,” he says, his voice surprisingly steady. “It's too deep.”
“I won’t leave you father!” I cry.
“I wouldn’t insult you by asking you to.” He says smiling slightly. “but I don’t want those Romans to get their hands on me. Please don’t let them take me, son.”
I shake my head. “I can’t fight them off, Father.” Looking over his head I can see the Romans closing in.
“I didn’t mean that.” He looks me in the eyes, and presses his sword into my hand. “make it quick.” He whispers.
Tears well up in my eyes. “I can’t, Father.”
He grips my arms. “yes you can. your strong. Just do this for me.”
I stand wiping my eyes as I do. I look down at my father. He’s smiling up at me. “I love you, son.” He says. It’s the first time he had ever told me. I tighten my grip on his sword and smile back.
“I love you too, Father.” I say. Then I plunge the sword into his heart with all my strength. A look of shock quickly crosses his face, before it is replaced with a look of peace. I pull his sword - my sword now, I say to myself - out and his body slowly slumps to the ground.
As I stand there looking down onto the body of my Father, his bloody dripping from my sword, Epedos puts his hand onto my shoulder, startling me. I had completely forgotten about him.
“we got to go.” He says to me, nodding towards the Roman army.
I stare at the Romans, and spot Quintus once again. Hatred pulses though me stronger than ever. I tighten my grip on my sword.
“you go.” I say to Epedos, without taking my eyes off of Quintus. “I’m going for revenge.”
I had expected Epedos to try and talk me out of it. Instead he took up position next to me. I look at him in surprise. He smiles back.
“I swore to your father I would protect you.” he says.
His loyalty makes me smile. “He was right, Epedos. You are my brother. Now let’s go make these bastards pay!” I add with a cruel grin, and take up my fighting stance.
As the Romans come within a few yards of us, Quintus barks an order. “Take these two alive. They will gather a high price as slaves.”
“fuck you.” I scream at him with pure hatred and charge. Epedos is at my side as we hit the shield. As I try to fight my way to Quintus, The Romans surround us. soon we are getting battered by shields from every side. I keep struggling, trying to get to Quintus, even though I know it’s hopeless. Soon Epedos collapses under a rain of blows. Then a blow catches my in the gut, dropping me down onto my knees. I look up just in time to see a boot coming towards my head. Then blackness takes me.
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