Chapter Thirteen

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The rain fell steadily; drumming rhythmically against the plate armour on the shoulders of the legionary. He cursed quietly; riling equally against the forbidding slate sides of the valley and the druidic Ordovice clansmen who lurked up there amongst the heather and jagged rocky outcrops. He longed to be back in the warmth of his native Galicia; growing olives and making wine, anywhere rather than this barren corner of the frigid island across the narrow sea from Gaul.

The legionary had served all over the Empire; dealing with rebellious barbarians and subjugating new lands for the Emperor. Nowhere had been quite so hostile in terms of terrain or inhabitants as this land, just a day's sail from the shores of the Empire.

It was two years since the death of the great general Veranius who had been just another victim of the terrible weather and the ignorant barbarians of this island. 

The Romans had brought with them not just the sword, but also baths, heating, law, cities and civilisation. Some of the barbarian tribes had seen the wisdom of accepting the Roman way of life and were enjoying the benefits. Others fought vehemently to maintain their freedom, customs and practices. Among these none fought so fiercely, nor so wantonly, as the druids.

Veranius had been charged by the Emperor Nero with the pacification of the druidic tribes who inhabited this mountainous territory in the west and so the legion had been gathered from camp and dispatched to do the Emperor's bidding. After the death of Veranius, the impetuous Suetonius Paullinus had been sent to replace him which had stalled the process of suppressing the druids.

Once Paullinus had arrived the process had been renewed in earnest. The legion had burnt and slaughtered its way west; through the territory of the Cornovii and on into the lands of the Ordovices, killing the barbarians wherever they could be found.

But these druids did not know when they were bested; they refused to come out in honourable battle. Instead they raided the Roman camps at night, killing sentries and scattering livestock before vanishing back into the night.

Now the legion stood poised to end the resistance of the Ordovices. Final preparations were being made to cross the body of water to the island the barbarians called Yns Mor. 

The island was the seat of the druidic cult and also acted as the primary grain supply area to the Ordovices. Once the island was under the control of Paullinus, the druids would be forced to sue for peace, or starve to death. 

The legionary didn't much care which.

The legionary altered his weight and peered up into the gloomy shadows on the valley walls. He shifted the weight of his pilum from his left hand to his right and began to walk on the spot in an effort to keep warm. The rain had long-since penetrated his leather jerkin and he had begun to shiver with the cold. 

Behind him the legion had just finished the construction of the camp it would be using for the next few days and the men were beginning to relax. He could hear the chatter of friends sharing wine and smell the smoke of the cook fires. His stomach gave a low rumble and he cursed his luck at having been given sentry duty on such an unpleasant evening. The fact that all evenings here were like this offered little consolation to him as the heavy rain drummed on his helmet and ran into his eyes, forcing him to blink.

Minutes dragged by and the legionary scanned the lengthening shadows on the valley sides, seeing a druid lurking in each one. '

Wake up!' he told himself, if there were to be any visits from the Ordovices tonight it would not be until after dark.

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