Hunting the eagles, p.1
Hunting the Eagles,
About the Book
Also by Ben Kane
List of Chararcters
About the Book
AN ARMY DEFEATED
AD 14: Five long years have passed since the annihilation of three legions in the wilds of Germania. Although the bones of 15,000 soldiers now moulder in the Teutoburg Forest, not all the Romans were slain in the bloody ambush.
A CENTURION OUT FOR VENGEANCE
Demoted, battle-scarred and hell-bent on revenge, Centurion Tullus and his legionaries begin their fightback. Ranged against them is the charismatic chieftan Arminius, who is gathering thousands of hostile tribesmen, and determined to crush the Romans for a second time.
AN EAGLE RECOVERED
The eagle belonging to Tullus’ old legion is still in enemy hands, but as the Romans’ reprisals take their army deep into German tribal lands, he remains convinced that it is within reach. But Arminius and his warriors are perilously close. As battle begins, Tullus and his comrades know they must fight as never before – just to stay alive . . .
The battle of the Teutoburg Forest in September AD 9 saw three Roman legions annihilated by German tribes in a masterful ambush. While the defeat was a considerable setback for Rome, such humiliations were never taken lying down. By the time five years had passed, an experienced general – Germanicus – and a massive army were in place on the frontier, ready to cross the Rhine in search of revenge. Recovery of the three lost eagle standards was paramount. So too was tracking down and killing Arminius, the chieftain who had masterminded the Teutoburg massacre.
Before the campaign could get underway, events took an unexpected direction with the emperor Augustus’ sudden death in autumn AD 14. An air of unease settled over the entire empire, and simmering grievances held by the soldiers of the Rhine garrisons flared into open mutiny. Restoring law and order would test Germanicus’ skills to the limit, and make his task in the wilds of Germania that much harder.
Although Hunting the Eagles is a work of fiction, it is peopled by historical characters and is based on real events in north-western Germany during the years AD 14 and 15. I hope, like me, you too will want to lose yourself in this remarkable story, and to march step by muddy step with the Roman legionaries as they fight for their lives against Arminius and his bloodthirsty horde.
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
For Selina Walker, one of the finest editors around.
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.*
Marcus Piso, one of Tullus’ soldiers.
Vitellius, another of Tullus’ soldiers, and Piso’s friend.
Saxa, another of Tullus’ soldiers, and Piso’s friend.
Metilius, another of Tullus’ soldiers, and Piso’s friend.
Ambiorix, Gaul and servant to Tullus.
Degmar, Marsi tribesman and servant to Tullus.
Lucius Seius Tubero, a Roman noble, now a legionary legate and enemy of Tullus.*
Septimius, senior centurion of the Seventh Cohort, Fifth Legion, and Tullus’ commander.*
Flavoleius Cordus, senior centurion, Second Cohort, Fifth Legion.
Castricius Victor, senior centurion, Third Cohort, Fifth Legion.
Proculinus, senior centurion, Sixth Cohort, Fifth Legion.
Germanicus Julius Caesar, step-grandson of Augustus, nephew of Tiberius, and imperial governor of Germania and Tres Galliae.*
Tiberius Claudius Nero, emperor and successor to Augustus.*
Augustus, formerly Gaius Octavius and other names, successor to Julius Caesar, and the first Roman emperor. Died in late AD 14 after more than forty years in power.*
Aulus Caecina Severus, military governor of Germania Inferior.*
Lucius Stertinius, one of Germanicus’ generals.*
Calusidius, ordinary soldier who confronted Germanicus.*
Bassius, primus pilus of the Fifth Legion.
Gaius and Marcus, mutinous soldiers.
Aemilius, Benignus, Gaius, soldiers with whom Piso gambles.
Publius Quinctilius Varus, the dead governor of Germany who was tricked into leading his army into a terrible ambush in AD 9.*
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.
Thusnelda, Arminius’ wife.*
Osbert, one of Arminius’ warriors.
Flavus, Arminius’ brother.*
Inguiomerus, Arminius’ uncle and recent ally, and chieftain of a large faction of the Cherusci tribe.*
Segestes, Thusnelda’s father, ally of Rome and chieftain of a faction of the Cherusci tribe.*
Segimundus, Segestes’ son and Thusnelda’s brother.*
Artio, orphan girl rescued by Tullus in Eagles at War.
Sirona, Gaulish woman and carer for Artio.
Scylax, Artio’s dog.
Autumn AD 12
CENTURION LUCIUS COMINIUS Tullus bit back a curse. Life had been different – more unforgiving – since the slaughter in the forest three years prior. The smallest thing flung him back into the searing chaos of those muddy, bloody days, when thousands of German tribesmen had struck from ambush, wiping three legions, his among them, from the face of the earth. In this case, it was a heavy rain shower over the city of Rome, and the resulting muck on the unpaved street that spattered his lower legs and caught at his sandals.
Tullus closed his eyes, hearing again the German warriors’ sonorous, gut-churning barritus. HUUUUMMMMMMMM! HUUUUMMMMMMMM! Th
Tullus blinked, not seeing the busy street before him, but a muddy track. On and on it led, for miles, through lines of never-ending trees and areas of limb-sucking bog. It was littered throughout with discarded equipment and the bodies of men. Legionaries. His legionaries. Before the surprise attack, Tullus would have argued with anyone who’d suggested that it was possible for his entire command – a cohort of over four hundred men – to be annihilated by an enemy armed mainly with spears. If they had proposed that three legions could be overwhelmed in the same fashion, he would have branded them insane.
He was a wiser, humbler man now.
The brutal experience – and its aftermath – had embittered Tullus too. Because his legion’s eagle had been lost, the Eighteenth had been disbanded. So too had the Seventeenth and Nineteenth legions. He and the other survivors had been divided up among the other legions serving on the River Rhenus. The final humiliation had been his demotion, from senior centurion to ordinary centurion. With retirement beckoning, it had been a career-killing blow. The intervention of Lucius Seius Tubero, an enemy of his and a senatorial tribune at the time, had been the final blow that ensured an ignominious twilight to his army service. If it hadn’t been for Tubero, Tullus brooded, he might still have commanded a cohort.
He started, wondering who could have recognised him here, hundreds of miles from where he was supposed to be.
‘TULLUS!’ Even though the street was crowded, and the air was filled with everyday sounds – shopkeepers’ competing voices, two mongrels fighting over a scrap of meat, banter between passers-by – the woman’s shrill tone carried. ‘TULLUS!’
It took all of his self-control not to react. Not a soul in Rome knows me, Tullus told himself for the hundredth time that day. At least, only a handful do, and the chances of meeting any of them are close to non-existent. I am nothing more than a citizen in a sea of others, going about my business. Imperial officials are ignorant of my identity, and don’t care what I am doing in the city. Even if they stopped me, I can lie my way out of trouble. I am a veteran turned trader, here in Rome with an old comrade to see Tiberius’ triumph, nothing more.
A solid man in late middle age, with a long, scarred jaw and army-cut short hair, Tullus was still handsome, in a weathered kind of way. He was dressed in an off-white tunic that had seen better days. His metalled belt marked him out as a soldier or, as he wanted to portray it, an ex-soldier. Marcus Crassus Fenestela, his red-haired companion, was uglier, thinner and wirier than he was, and his belt also marked him out as a man with military training.
‘There you are, Tullus,’ said the voice, a woman’s. ‘Where in Hades’ name have you been?’
Casual as you like, Tullus turned his head, scanned the faces of those nearby. The Tullus who had been summoned, by his wife it seemed, was a squat slab of a thing, half his age, but shorter and with twice his girth. The wife was little better, a red-cheeked, bosom-heavy slattern standing by the counter of an open-fronted restaurant. Tullus relaxed, and as he did, Fenestela whispered in his ear, ‘A shame that she wasn’t calling you! You would have been fed, and got your leg over too, if you were lucky.’
‘Piss off, you dog.’ Tullus shoved his optio away, but he was smiling. Their differences in rank had been abraded by countless years of life together – and surviving horrors that few could imagine. Fenestela only called him ‘sir’ when there were other soldiers present, or when he was irritated with Tullus.
The two men continued tracing their way towards the centre of the city. Despite the early hour, the narrow streets were packed. Rome was busy day and night, they had found, but the prospect of a triumph today, in honour of the emperor’s heir, had brought out everyone who could walk, limp and hobble. Young and old, rich and poor, hale and sick, lame and diseased, all were eager to witness the martial display, and to avail themselves of the free food and wine that would be on offer.
Past the Street of the Bakers they went, savouring the rich aroma of baking bread, and then Carpenters’ Alley, which echoed to the sound of saws and hammers. Tullus paused at an armourer’s on Forge Street to gaze with greedy eyes at the fine swords on display. Neither paid any attention to the offers of business from the tablet- and stylus-wielding men in Scribes’ Court. Their gaze lingered on the fine-figured women in the better establishments along Whores’ Lane, but they kept walking.
‘It was mad to come here,’ said Fenestela, shaking his head in wonderment at the imposing entrance to a massive public baths and the huge, painted statue of Augustus that stood outside it. ‘I’m glad we did, though. The place is a bloody marvel.’
‘To Hades with the official ban, I say,’ replied Tullus with a wink. ‘A man has to see the city of marble once in his life – and a triumph, if he can. After what you and I have been through, we’ve earned the right to see both.’ He spoke in an undertone, the way they had talked since deviating from their official duty, which was to find recruits for their new legion, the Fifth Alaudae, in the province of Gallia Narbonensis, hundreds of miles to the north. After a fruitless few days of shouting themselves hoarse in various towns, it had been Tullus who had suggested travelling to Rome for Tiberius’ triumph, the reward for his victories in Illyricum some years before.
To act as they had was not only a temporary abandonment of their mission, but a flouting of the imperial decree laid upon all survivors of the terrible defeat: a lifetime ban on entering Italy. As Tullus had said, however, who would ever know what they’d done? They could be back in Gallia Narbonensis within a month, and working night and day to find the recruits they needed. As long as they returned to their legion’s base in Vetera, on the River Rhenus, with the required number of men, there would be no questions asked.
It had been easy to sway Fenestela: like Tullus, he had never visited the empire’s capital, or seen a triumph.
‘Taste the best-priced wines in Rome!’ cried a voice to their left. ‘Come and raise a toast to Tiberius, the conquering hero!’ Tullus looked. The proprietor of an inn, or more likely one of his minions, was standing on a barrel to one side of the entrance, inviting passers-by inside with expansive waves.
‘Fancy a quick drink?’ asked Fenestela, stroking his red-and-grey-flecked beard.
‘No.’ Tullus’ voice was firm. ‘It’ll be no better than vinegar, and you know it. We’d still end up having a skinful, and that would mean losing out on a good place to stand.’
Fenestela made a rueful face. ‘Plus we’d need to piss all the time.’
The directions given to them by the landlord of their inn, a low-class, anonymous establishment at the base of the Aventine Hill, were good enough to get them to the Circus Maximus. From there, the man had said, it was a case of deciding where they wanted to watch the parade. On the plain of Mars, outside the city, they would get a good view of the triumphal procession as it assembled, but there was little of the atmosphere that prevailed inside the walls. The main livestock market had good numbers of temporary stands, but they’d have to get there at the crack of dawn to have any chance of a seat. Far more seating was available at the Circus Maximus, but it was a long way from where the crowning moment of the parade would be, and was prone to rioting. The Forum Romanum or the Capitoline Hill itself were the pre-eminent locations, but the density of the crowds at the former bordered on dangerous, and only invited guests were allowed up to the latter. ‘Not to say that you’re not fine fellows – or that you’d be put off by the risk of crushing or
Both Tullus and Fenestela wanted to see the procession from the best possible spot, so they had agreed to make for the Forum Romanum, which they had been impressed by during their sightseeing the previous day. Before long, however, it was clear that the crowds, and then the officials blocking off the streets along the parade’s route, would prevent them getting anywhere near their destination before Tiberius had passed by. They needed a guide.
Tullus clicked his fingers at a sharp-eyed urchin who was idling on a street corner. ‘You! Want to earn a coin?’
When he was younger, Tullus had been an optimist, someone who liked to see the best in others. No longer. The shocking revelation that Arminius was a traitor, his savage ambush on Varus’ legions, and the shameful treatment heaped on Tullus and his comrades since – by their own kind – had given him a jaundiced view of the world. No one could be trusted, until they had proved themselves worthy. Tullus had dogged the urchin’s footsteps, therefore, prepared to be attacked by lowlifes at any point during their journey.
In the event, their guide did not play them false, but led them, swift and true, through a maze of alleys and back lanes to emerge into a street that fed, he said, straight on to the eastern side of the Forum. The stupendous level of noise – cheering, fanfares of trumpets and, from some distance away, the creak of wagon wheels and the tramp of thousands of feet – was proof that the urchin had delivered them to the right place, and in time. He gave them a triumphant look, and stretched out his hand. ‘My money.’
Tullus handed over the agreed price and muttered gruff thanks, but the urchin was already gone, vanished whence he’d come.
‘He knows his way around,’ said Fenestela.
‘The denarius was well spent.’ Tullus led the way. ‘Let’s see where the parade is before we decide where to stand.’
The press grew thick as they emerged on to the Forum. Used to close combat, Tullus and Fenestela eased their way through here, and used their shoulders to good effect there. Neither was above treading heavily on a foot if needs be. Few dared to object to their passage. Those who did soon backed down when faced by Tullus’ unforgiving stare. Before long, the pair had moved far enough forward to have a decent view to the left – and the entrance to the Forum through which the front of the parade was just coming – and also to the right, along the Forum to the base of the Capitoline Hill. At the top towered the magnificent gold-roofed temple of Jupiter, Tiberius’ final destination.