Aurelia ran for her life, death hot on her heels. The image of the crew member being cut down followed her through the forest like a nightmare. The inhuman war cries rang out across the countryside, tearing the silence in the air. Branches from trees and thick underbrush snagged in her hair and pulled it from the pins holding it back. With a cry, she jerked her head, leaving wisps of dark hair dancing on the breeze.
The ground under her feet seemed to tremble as the Warrior behind her galloped his horse after her. None of the Roman soldiers were in her line of sight, which meant either they all suffered the same end as the crew member or she was running in the entirely wrong direction.
Whatever the cause was, the outcome remained the same. She was alone.
With her breathing loud in her ears, Aurelia risked a glance backwards and saw he was only a few paces behind her now. In a strange turn of events, the Warrior had sheathed his sword back into the scabbard at his hip and opted for something that looked like a crudely woven piece of rope with rocks attached at both ends.
Realising what he was going to do with it, Aurelia tried to swerve out of the way but it was too late. The Warrior threw it and it tangled around her legs, tripping her up and sprawling her on the floor.
Kicking at the rope, she got her legs free and sprang up, ready to sprint again but the Warrior rounded on her, cutting off all avenues of escape. There would be no more running.
For the first time since this had all started, she had the chance of taking stock of the man on the horse. He was a tall, lithe man with a face that was young and aristocratic beneath the dark hair blown wild by the wind. His full, sensuous mouth was grim as he regarded her seriously, eyes intent on her every move. He cut a sinister figure dressed in form fitting leather armour.
“Surrender,” he said in growling Latin*. “Or die where you stand.”
Aurelia wasn’t sure if she was more surprised at the fact that he spoke her language or he was giving her a choice to live or die. She paused long enough to get some of her breath back. “Let me go,” she pleaded. “Let all the soldiers go. We are no threat to you and yours.”
The Warrior laughed, deep and throaty. “You are Roman. You will always be a threat to my people while you still draw breath.”
Aurelia bit her lip and refused to let fear get the better of her. “We are lost,” she tried again. “We had no way of knowing that we had trespassed on your land-“
“You people trespassed the moment Rome stepped foot on our shores. Britain belongs to its own people. Let me not hear another excuse from your lips. Do you surrender?”
If she surrendered, what exactly would that entail? Slavery, rape, torture and death. If she didn’t surrender, he would run his sword through her and leave her here to be food for the creatures of mud and carrion birds. Little choice, then.
Slowly, without taking her eyes off him, she bent down to pick up the rope with the rocks. It was a child’s weapon compared to the sword in his possession but it was better to have it than die empty handed.
His face sobered as he watched her, eyes darkening. “I often wondered if Roman women were as insolent as their men. Now I have my answer.” He slid gracefully from his horse to stand before her.
Aurelia didn’t reply to the insult, merely tightened her grip on the rope. Perhaps it was answer enough. She eyed the warrior as he slowly advanced towards her with unhurried steps. Gods, he was even taller than she had assumed. She barely came to his shoulder. He seemed to fill the space around him like some dark entity.
Lethal. From the way this man held himself, the way he walked, the way he watched her, he was the very epitome of lethal. All her life, Aurelia had been around military men of her family and their connections, had been in the company of men who wore their masculinity like a wreath of honour. But never had they effected her like this man did. She had never felt so scared of someone just by being close to them.
Without her noticing it, they had begun to circle each other, taking each other in. For Aurelia, it was warily. For the Warrior, it was with quiet amusement. He seemed to be waiting for her next move goading her to do it.
“Let me go.” She said, one final attempt at reasoning with this man.
He shook his head. “I cannot do that.”
Something broke in her, the accumulation of the past seventy two hours breaking the flood gates and she lunged at him, swinging the rocks wildly at his head. His eyes widened in astonishment before he ducked. The force of the lunge sent her stumbling sideways, but she used her leg to kick out at his knee. By some act of providence, her sandal connected and his leg buckled beneath him, sending him to his knees.
A fierce stab of triumph shot through her, but she had little time to revel in it. He had underestimated her, as men often do with women, and that had been the only reason she had this small window of opportunity. She would not waste it by gloating like a child.
With his head lowered, she raised the rocks above her own and snarled. “This is for that man you cut down!” and brought them down across his brow. The rocks connected and his head whipped to the side with the blow. Blood flowed freely from the cut high on his forehead.
But he didn’t go down like she had hoped. In fact, he was recovering remarkably well for someone who just got hit in the head with a blunt object. She stumbled back as he rose to his feet, shaking his head like a dog to dispel the dizziness he was surely feeling.
Feeling the upper hand trickling away from her rapidly, she spun on her heel and ran, dropping the rocks in her wake. She barely took ten steps before she was grabbed by her upper arm and thrust backwards until her back hit the trunk of a tree. Her head connected with the rough bark and an explosion of pain and colour erupted behind her eyes.
She groaned, movements sluggish, trying to push him away but he overpowered her easily and pinned her to the tree, feet barely touching the ground beneath her. He had her by the throat, and though she was powerless to prise his grip open with her hands, it didn’t restrict her airway.
He leant towards her, face impossibly close until all she could see were his cold ice blue eyes. “That was a very stupid thing to do.” He said softly, the sound like silk over steel. “Very stupid.”
Aurelia swallowed with difficulty. Now came the killing blow. She closed her eyes and wished for sweet oblivion to come soon.
(*) The Romans spoke Latin, but it wasn’t the Classical Latin language that it taught in schools and universities of today. The Romans would have spoken Vulgar Latin, and used Classical Latin for their writing and official events and ceremonies. The Romance Languages (such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian and Italian) all evolved from the same starting point following the fall of the Western Roman Empire – Vulgar Latin. Over time they developed into completely separate languages.
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War Prize (A Roman Britain story)Historical Fiction
Aurelia, a Noble Roman woman, had heard of the savage British tribes, their mystic Celtic ways, and the battles the Roman army was fighting against them on their shores. The battles her soon-to-be Husband, Quintus Acquilla, was fighting in the name...