Eagles in the storm, p.1
Eagles in the Storm,
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Ben Kane
List of characters
About the Book
AD 15. The German chieftain Arminius has been defeated, one of the lost Roman eagles recovered, and thousands of German tribesmen slain.
Yet these successes aren’t nearly enough for senior centurion Lucius Tullus. Not until Arminius is dead, his old legion’s eagle found and the enemy tribes completely vanquished will he rest.
But Arminius – devious, fearless – is burning for revenge of his own.
Charismatic as ever, he raises another large tribal army, which will harry the Romans the length and breadth of the land.
Soon Tullus finds himself in a cauldron of bloodshed, treachery and danger.
His mission to retrieve his legion’s eagle will be his most perilous yet…
About the Author
‘History is more than facts on a page. It’s the sounds, the smells, the people, the passion. History should make you think: “I was there”. My books are born from my obsession with Roman history. I’ve followed Spartacus’s trail across Italy. I’ve stood at Cannae and pictured Hannibal’s army meeting the massed legions of Rome. I’ve watched the sea lapping against the fortifications of Syracuse, besieged by the Romans for close to two years. Immerse yourself in these incredible stories and – like me – remind yourself why the legend of Rome endures.’
To find out more about Ben Kane, his world and his novels, visit:
Also by Ben Kane
The Forgotten Legion
The Silver Eagle
The Road to Rome
Spartacus: The Gladiator
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
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)
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
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.
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 re
‘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.