Chapter 22 - Picts

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Marcus heard Phyllis scream his name long before he managed to tear his eyes away from the horror in front of him. The small harbour had been destroyed. There was no other word for it.

He had been up the cliffs near the Castrum when he first spotted the flames. He had been only a half an hour's march closer than the Centuria, and so he had ridden ahead, expecting to meet them. The smoke had to have been spotted from the watch towers that stuck out above the trees. Yet they were still not here.

There wasn't even that much to do. They were too late. Impossibly late. Whatever force had struck upon the village, it had flattened it. Killed young and old, left no mercy or prisoners. Marcus had been here many times, and after the Legions abandoned their quest for Britain, it had become a desolate place, Caletes a little up north becoming their port of choice because the ground was more fertile.

And now all that remained was gone.

Set aflame, apparently, to cover tracks. He saw a handful of boats, too far from shore to reach. Not that he could do much on his own. Why was there no one else?

Apart from Phyllis.

Minerva, she should not see this. But she already had, because she came running up to him as if her only horror was finding him here.

"Phyl..." She slammed into him, wrapping firm arms around him and squeezing him tight. Only when she let him go again and turned around, he saw her grimace over the bodies she had crossed on her path. Only a few feet away from them, the smouldering frames of two small children lay face down in the ashes, on of them still clutching a raffled doll.

"What happened?" she asked, breathless

"I don't know," he told her.

"We need to go."

Cornelis's voice completely startled him as it sounded behind him. Marcus turned around. There was an urgency in Cornelis's voice that would have made him obey at once, if only he hadn't had the drill of searching out the injured for over five years now.

"Are you sure there is no one left?" he asked, and he hated the slight tremble in his voice. He shouldn't waste time with shock. It would help no one.

"Doesn't matter, we need to leave." Cornelis pointed at a pile of caskets stacked against the few remaining boats at the docks. "See that? That's loot. Someone will come back for it."

Or was still here. Marcus realized with a painful jolt that Cornelis was absolutely right. And yet he couldn't help but try to see past Cornelis, desperately scanning the remaining huts for a sign of life.

"There's no one Marcus, I can sense it. Let's go." Phyllis said. She grasped his wrist and started to pull him towards the horses. Patroclus had been terrified of the flames, and Goliath and Storm trampled about nervously at the edge of the village, but they were, at least, still there. Keeping Phyllis safe was what he had sworn to do, and so he followed, but he didn't manage to take the lead.

Phyllis side-stepped two farmers' bodies, arms crossed in front of their chest in a desperate gesture of defence and the corpse of a toddler behind them before they made it half way, and though her lips formed a tight, bloodless line, she didn't slow down once. Cornelis was even worse, for he just stepped over them.

Marcus tried to copy their determination, crestfallen when he realized he would slow their departure because he had no horse of his own. If the Centuria had been anywhere near, they would have been visible in the hills above them. His miscalculation had endangered Phyllis. His eyes steady on the horses in front of him, it was still Cornelis who halted first, stretching his wide arms to shove them sideward. But they were in open field, unlike the raiders that emerged from the edge of the forest.

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