Germanus stopped his horse suddenly, dismounted and climbed to the top of a small hill. Lupus saw the glint in his master’s eyes as he looked down on two bagaudae. They spoke in broken Latin; one wore a legionary’s sword and buckler; the other was assessing their spoil – coins, plate, various kinds of silver goods, already hacked into pieces for ease of trade. A fire burned in their makeshift camp.
Divesting himself of his over-robe, Germanus crouched down and tiptoed towards the robbers, circling round by the blind side of their camp. Lupus could only look on; there was no sound or movement. Then, as if from nowhere, Germanus sprang out, shouted a loud, fearful barritus and engaged them. Surprise gave him the upper hand and he drew first blood. The one with the legionary’s weapon was the more threatening of the two, as if he had some basic training in one-to-one combat, but Germanus was too cunning for him; the other fool just stood there gawping. The ‘fighter’ lunged too far and Germanus disarmed him with a combination of sword and fierce arm-hold.
The bagaudae stood motionless while Lupus tied them up together to a nearby tree, and Germanus relieved them of their booty. They were only too willing to talk: the fighter was a deserter from the Roman Army; his younger brother told of the death of the rest of their family at the hands of some barbarii.
‘So this is what you have come to? Stealing from your own?
‘What other choice do we have, my Lord?’ The two thieves spoke in tandem.
‘There is always a better choice’.
Germanus turned away from his pathetic prisoners, walked over to Lupus, raised his eyebrow, waited for a response and, once received, turned back to the bagaudae and nodded slowly.
‘You are working for me now. Step out of line once – just once – and you are dead. Understood?’
The Vortigern looked out across the sea. Wisps of snow drained across the weak January sky. He closed the window, drew a purple cloak trimmed with fur around his upper body and returned to the throne at the head of the Council table. He surveyed the men seated around him and then motioned a servant to add coals to the foculus. The fire quickly devoured the black rocks, spitting and snarling as it did so. Two dogs yelped awake as sparks flew out across the room and hit their rumps.
The door to the Council chamber opened and in strode a tall young man in full military uniform. The soldier gave his sword to one of the servants standing at the entrance, walked into the middle of the room, bowed his head curtly, straightened himself up and then spoke.
‘Germanus is dead, my Lord Vortigern’.
The Vortigern looked the arrival up and down. Agricola was wet from the rain that had pursued his party all the way back from Gallia to Dubris. He took off his helmet and laid the headgear on the edge of the round table where sat the men who governed Britannia. Alongside Agricola stood Arminius, his Vicarius and bed companion. The pale-skinned lad nodded in agreement every time his master spoke.
The Vortigern shivered, but remained silent. He motioned for more coals on the brazier; again, the servant threw fuel onto the fire. The floorboards creaked as Agricola shifted his weight from one leg to the other, waiting for his master to react.
‘You fool - I told you to recruit him to our cause, not murder him’.
The Vortigern stood up and threw off his cloak. His tall figure was clad all in black, a decorated belt tied tightly around his thin waist, his gold chain of office gleaming in the firelight.
‘Sire – he was already dead when we arrived. Someone had beaten us to it’.
Agricola clenched his fists together and sighed, shaking his head gently.
The Vortigern looked up at Agricola, now more sympathetic to the young commander.
‘What do you mean someone had beaten you to it?’
‘I mean that Germanus’s head had been severed from his body and placed on a pilum in the middle of the central courtyard at the general’s villa. The whole place had been ravaged. You could see the smoke for miles around. We were at least a day too late’.
‘How do you know that it was the General’s head, Agricola?’
Bishop Pelagius got up from his place at the Council table to the left of the Vortigern’s throne, beyond the light of the fire. He rose to his full height as he crossed the room and went so close to Agricola that the two men were breathing in each other’s faces. Agricola tolerated the heavily beringed hand on his shoulder for a few seconds, then pushed it away in disgust.
‘Because one of the few survivors said so, your grace, and the headdress and hair were clearly those of a high-born man’. Agricola turned away from Pelagius and looked back at the Vortigern in the corner of the room. The priest had now moved across to the fire and was playing with the golden chain hung around his neck. He started to finger the large cross attached to the end of it.
‘How can you be so sure that this ‘survivor’ tells the truth?’ Pelagius snorted.
‘I don’t answer to you Pelagius, only to my lord the Vortigern, or my father in sire’s absence. You are a disgrace to the Roman Way, with your rings and your crosses and your new Mithras’.
‘You will answer to me one day, nephew of mine, and you will believe my words, either by your will or my force, so take care young man.’
‘Be that as it may your grace, but as far as I am concerned you are but a mere priest, and even worse a Christian one.’
‘Just like your father’, Pelagius snorted.
‘My father may be another one of your cross worshippers now it suits him, but I care not for all this theology, even though I am supposed to be his son’.
‘Bishop Severianus may be a Christian, but he is the wrong kind, Agricola. I preach the true faith’.
Agricola snorted. ‘You and your bloody faith: give me the old gods any day’.
‘Agricola, Pelagius – enough. Sit down, the both of you. You are supposed to be senior members of the High Council – try and act as if you are. The Vortigern cares not for talk of religion. And neither do I’.
It was Constantius, the rationalis, with his softly spoken voice and educated accent. If anything, he was the most richly dressed of all the High Council, as befitted his rank and role as Britannia’s treasurer. His finely woven striped linen tunic was immaculately laundered. His long white hair and grey-white beard added to his air of distinction. The other members of the High Council – who had remained silent until now, mainly because they were waiting to judge the Vortigern’s mood before daring to express an opinion – nodded and grunted in agreement. One – Justus by name – even knocked his clenched fist on the table in approval.
The Vortigern spat into the foculus, as if to rid himself of a bad taste. ‘I simply cannot believe that Germanus would have given in so easily. When I knew him, he would have killed all his attackers single handed – no need of an army. There must be some other explanation’. The Vortigern looked across to Agricola, now seated at his place at the High Council’s table. ‘And what of Germanus’s wife and child?’ he queried.
Agricola hesitated, then looked at the Vortigern.
‘The woman was raped and killed’.
‘Her name was Eustachia’, interjected the Vortigern. ‘The most beautiful woman in all Gallia – allegedly’.
Pelagius looked at Agricola quizzically. Agricola responded by shaking his head at the Bishop. Constantius cleared his throat, trying to move the conversation forward in order not to dwell on the unasked question about the Vortigern’s knowledge of Germanus and his family.
‘There was no sign of any children. Who were we looking for: boy, girl, both?’ Agricola asked.
‘Boy’, the Vortigern replied, stroking his chin. He nodded to the servant to put food on the table and offer it first to Agricola and Arminius. ‘There was only one son, as I recall. Strange that there was no sign of any child’.
‘Does it matter that Germanus is dead, my Lord? Why was he so important to you?’
‘Yes. Pelagius, it does. He would have been the ideal person to be my commander-in-chief’.
Agricola stood up, knocking his food and drink off the table.
‘I thought I was in charge!’
‘Calm yourself Agricola. You are. But I need someone to take charge of the joint forces. When Hengist and his troops arrive our men will be outnumbered three to one. Only someone like Germanus could command the respect of the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes as well as the British Army. You have much prowess Agricola, and you will be in charge one day, but I need - needed Germanus!’
Colin Brodd      8/04/20 6:10 PMAn intriguing beginning! I'm looking forward to reading more!
David Baker      8/05/20 9:13 AM
Thanks! Glad you like it, and good to meet you!