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Betrayal: The Centurions I, страница 1

 

Betrayal: The Centurions I
 


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Betrayal: The Centurions I


  Contents

  By the Same Author

  About the Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Acknowledgements

  Maps

  Preface

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Historical Note

  By the Same Author

  Empire

  Wounds of Honour

  Arrows of Fury

  Fortress of Spears

  The Leopard Sword

  The Wolf’s Gold

  The Eagle’s Vengeance

  The Emperor’s Knives

  Thunder of the Gods

  Altar of Blood

  About the Author

  Anthony Riches holds a degree in Military Studies from Manchester University. He began writing the story that would become the first novel in the Empire Series, Wounds of Honour, after a visit to Housesteads Roman Fort in 1996. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and three children.

  Find out more about his books at www.anthonyriches.com.

  www.hodder.co.uk

  First published in Great Britain in 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton

  An Hachette UK company

  Copyright © Anthony Riches 2017

  The right of Anthony Riches to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

  ISBN 978 1 473 62873 1

  Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

  Carmelite House

  50 Victoria Embankment

  London EC4Y 0DZ

  www.hodder.co.uk

  For Helen

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  The process of writing a novel is never a smooth one. Much time is spent looking out of the window (or even worse, the big electronic window on the world of interesting stuff). As ever, I am indebted to the patience of my editor Carolyn and the smooth facilitation of her assistant Abby, and the constant encouragement – only occasionally backed up with the use of force – of my wife Helen. My thanks to all of you who pushed me to get my backside in gear and deliver a readable book.

  Taking a leaf out of a highly successful colleague’s playbook, and for the first time ever, I’ve used an external consultant to advise me as to the accuracy of what’s known as I’ve used it, and the probability of what’s speculated where I’ve written fiction. Jona Lendering, owner of the fantastic Livius website (livius.org) very kindly agreed to cast an eye over the manuscript and point out any gross errors. This kindness paid dividends when he drew my attention to at least one major issue from a historical perspective, and thereby turned an ambush in the woods (in the next book) into something quite different because, as he pointed out, the pollen record pretty much proves that there were no trees in the place I’d written about! Thank you, Jona.

  And lastly, thanks to you, the reader, for continuing to read these stories. Without getting all misty-eyed and gushing, it’s a simple truth that without your imaginations as the seedbed for my imaginings none of this would ever have seen the light of day. So please keep reading. We’re only taking a temporary break from the Empire series, by the way, and once this story of the Batavian revolt as seen through the eyes of the men I’ve imagined fighting on both sides is done Marcus and his familia will return.

  Thanks everyone!

  Preface

  In the year AD 68 an era ended. From Gaius Julius Caesar’s usurpation of the republic’s power, Augustus’s brilliant seizure of the throne as ‘first citizen’, Tiberius’s descent into depravity, Caligula’s apparent insanity, Claudius’s pragmatism and restabilisation of power, and Nero’s deeply flawed and latterly egomaniacal reign, the same family had ruled the empire for almost a century – but the end of the line had finally been reached. A general fatigue with the extravagances, insecurities, indignities and sheer unsuitability of Nero’s rule came to a head when the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis (modern day north and eastern France), Gaius Julius Vindex, a noble of the Aquitani tribe and a Roman senator to boot, declared a revolt against the emperor and in support of the man he believed should be emperor, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis (the Mediterranean coast of modern Spain along with the central plateau), Servius Sulpicius Galba. But in failing either to secure powerful allies among those of his senatorial colleagues who commanded legions and armies, or to raise an army of his own to defend his uprising, this ill-judged rebellion simply sealed his own doom. The legions of Germania Superior (Upper Germany) swiftly marched south into Gallia Lugdunensis to challenge his light auxiliary force, and despite their commander, Lucius Verginius Rufus, agreeing a truce with Vindex, his legions then attacked anyway, routing the meagre rebel army at the battle of Vesontio (Besancon in France) in May AD 68. Defeated, Vindex committed suicide.

  From Nero’s perspective, however, the damage was already done. Verginius Rufus’s legionaries attempted to name their general as emperor, and, while he wisely refused to accept, Galba remained a focus of discontent in the senate. Nero committed suicide in early June, in the mistaken belief that he had been declared a public enemy by the senate. Galba, promptly declared emperor by a relieved aristocracy, began his march from Hispania to Rome to take the throne. It seemed that a relatively peaceful transfer of power had been achieved, and a disastrous civil war averted. The new emperor, a man old enough to have met Augustus as a child, was widely expected to provide some linkage with an age of strength and stability and thereby to re-establish the Pax Romana, name a suitable heir and either cede the throne or simply die at a suitable time. A new era apparently beckoned, promising the restoration of a state based on the virtues of Roman dignity and service to the empire, with an end to the excesses of the past century. But it was not to be …

  Prologue

  Britannia June AD 43

  ‘It comes down to this then. All that hard marching from Germania Superior to the coast, coaxing the men to risk Neptune’s wrath despite their terror of the open sea, all the marching and manoeuvring since we landed …’ The speaker paused, staring down across the mist-shrouded valley, its contours delicately shaded by the faint purple light in the eastern sky behind him. ‘It all boils down to this. A river, and an army of vicious savages determined not to let us get across it.’

  Gnaeus Hosidius Geta looked down from the hill’s summit at the legions waiting in the positions they had taken up along the river before dark the previous evening, almost invisible in the pre-dawn murk, then raised his gaze to stare across the river that snaked across the flood plain at the foot of the slope, and the dark mass of tribesmen on the far side, clustered around the pinprick points of light that were their smoking camp fires. Although still remarkably young for a legionary legatus at twenty-three, he was already a veteran of a successful military campaign in Africa the previous year, and had lobbied hard to join the long-awaited mission to conquer the island of
Britannia despite already having done enough to earn the highest position on the cursus honorum for a man of senatorial rank, that of consul. The sole arbiter of every meaningful decision that would be made with regard to the conduct and disposition of Legio Fourteenth Gemina’s five and a half thousand men and their supporting Batavian auxiliaries, as long as he operated within the plan that had been agreed the previous evening in the general’s command tent, he clearly expected his men to see combat before the sun set on the field of battle laid out before them.

  ‘Indeed …’

  His companion nodded, not taking his eyes off the vast army gathered on the river’s far side, the fighting strength of at least half a dozen British tribes gathered in numbers that threatened a difficult day for both Geta’s Fourteenth Legion and his own Second Augustan, unless the plan in whose formulation they had both played a leading role worked as intended. When he replied the words were uncharacteristically quiet for a usually bluff man, betraying his nervousness of the coming day.

  ‘Indeed. It all comes down to this. On the far side of the river there are a hundred and fifty thousand blue-faced barbarians, while on this side we have less than a third of their strength. More experienced, better armed, better disciplined and with a plan to make the best of those advantages … but what plan ever lived long beyond the moment when the first spear was thrown?’

  Geta grinned at him wolfishly in the half-light.

  ‘Nervous, Flavius Vespasianus? You, the steadiest of all of us?’

  The older man shook his head.

  ‘Just the musings of a man who knows his entire career turns on this day, colleague. All you’re thinking about is how soon you can get your blade wet, and how much glory you can earn in a single day’s fighting, whereas all I can see before me is the myriad ways in which I can throw this one last chance to prove myself into that river, and end up with the same feeling I had the day Caligula shoved a handful of horse shit into my toga for not keeping the streets clean. Or just end up dead. And dead might well be preferable, given Rome’s attitude to defeat. The prospect wouldn’t bother me quite so much if it didn’t also imply letting down the close friend who worked so hard to get me this position.’

  The younger man laughed softly at his frown, waving a hand at the mass of Britons crowded into the land behind the river’s opposite bank.

  ‘Look at them, colleague. Every warrior in this desolate wasteland of a country, gathered from hundreds of miles around to oppose our march on their settlements. Some of those men haven’t seen their own lands for months, but still they’ve held firm in their opposition to our advance. Their priests have told them the stories of how we treated the tribes we defeated in Gaul, how we deal with any people that resists us. They know that if they had chosen to join us of their own free will we would have spared them the horrors that follow any battle where Rome triumphs, the slaughter, the enslavements and the despoilment of their womanhood. They know that their resistance means that everything they hold dear will be torn down when they lose, and yet still they choose to fight. Gods below, Titus, they seethe with the urge to fight us! Indeed, they might already have overrun us, if we hadn’t advanced with such care to prevent any chance of an ambush. Their chieftains know just how bloody a straight fight would be for their people, were they to turn their warriors loose to rail at our shields while we cut them to ribbons, and so they lurk behind a river they believe we cannot cross in the teeth of their spears, offering us a battle they expect not to have to fight. Look at them. Does that really look like an army readying itself for battle?’

  Both men stared across the river at the British camp, a stark contrast to the ordered precision with which the four legions and their auxiliary cohorts facing them waited in their agreed start positions, close to the river. Geta pointed at the dark mass of their enemy, his voice rich with scorn.

  ‘They call us cowards, for not fighting man to man in their style, and yet they hide behind a narrow ditch full of water because they imagine themselves protected from our iron. Today, my friend, is the day that they will learn just how it was that we came to conquer most of the world.’

  He turned to Vespasianus with a hard smile.

  ‘My father tried to stop me from joining this expedition. He asked me if Africa wasn’t enough victory for me, if the capture of the chief of the Mauri hadn’t already brought an adequate fresh measure of glory to our name. I just pointed to the death masks of our family’s forefathers, staring down at us from the walls and daring me to give any less for my people than they did. Given the chance, I will show this ragged collection of hunters and farmers how a Roman gentleman conducts himself when the stink of blood and death is in the air.’

  He nodded at the older man.

  ‘And you, Flavius Vespasianus, I know that you will do the same. You may not come from an old established family, but there is iron in your blood nevertheless. You and your brother both serve the emperor with the same dedication as men with ten times your family’s history.’

  ‘Thank you, Hosidius Geta. That’s high praise from a man of your exalted station.’

  The young aristocrat turned to find another officer standing behind them, and he dipped his head in salute at the newcomer’s rank.

  ‘Greetings, Flavius Sabinus. Has the legatus augusti sent you to make sure your brother and I do our duty once battle is joined?’

  Sabinus, a legatus on the general’s command staff rather than a legion commander, shook his head in evident amusement.

  ‘Far from it. The general has every confidence in both of your abilities to enact the plan we discussed. In truth he was far keener for me to remain at his side in order to be ready for the transmission of the order to exploit your legions’ success. I persuaded him that an engagement of the sort of ferocity we’re likely to see today often places an intolerable strain on our command structure, and suggested that I should accompany your forces forward to the riverbank in case either of you should by some mischance be incapacitated. After all, it only takes one well-aimed arrow to spoil a man’s day in an instant.’

  The legion commanders shared a swift glance, then Geta’s face creased in a slow smile.

  ‘I don’t know about your brother, Flavius Sabinus, but I have no intention of being any man’s pin cushion! The warrior who comes for my life will need to look into my eyes as he makes the attempt!’

  Both brothers smiled at the younger man with genuine fondness before Flavius Vespasianus turned back to the battlefield below them.

  ‘My brother Sabinus has come to play the vulture, and swoop down on the feast of our success, should one of us be unlucky enough to fall in the coming battle.’

  His older sibling shook his head in mock disgust.

  ‘Your brother Sabinus has, in point of fact, come to see Hosidius Geta’s German auxiliaries show us all just why it is that the legatus of the Fourteenth Legion is forever singing their praises. So Geta, tell me, what is it that you have in mind for your armoured savages that had you argue for them to be placed in the front line today?’

  Geta nodded, looking out across the river with the hard eyes of a man who understood only too well the damage that could be done to his command were it wielded by a man without an appreciation of its strengths and weaknesses.

  ‘A timely question. And in answering it, allow me the liberty of asking one of my own. Tell me, Flavius Sabinus, what’s the greatest threat the Britons present to us today?’

  The senior officer answered without hesitation.

  ‘Their chariots, that’s their greatest strength. The Britons might be one hundred and fifty thousand strong, but they’re farmers and woodsmen for the most part, some brave, some not, but very few of them as well trained or conditioned as our men. Their greatest fighting capability is concentrated in each king’s companion warriors, the bravest and the best men chosen to accompany their chieftain into battle. They number just a few hundred men, but they’ve been trained to fight from childhood; they’re well-armed and superbly mo
tivated by their priests, and they fear dishonour in the eyes of their gods far more than death itself. Combine those men with the two hundred chariots our scouts have reported and the enemy commander has the means to deliver a pair of their best warriors with each one, as fast as a galloping horse, to any point on the battlefield where they can have the optimum impact.’

  Geta nodded solemnly.

  ‘Exactly. Several hundred picked men descending on one point of the battlefield as fast as a charging cavalryman, delivered to the place where they can do the most damage almost as soon as that weakness becomes apparent. If a legion falters in crossing the river under the rain of their arrows, then those warriors will pounce on us like wild animals as we try to get ashore. Who knows how many men they might kill under such a circumstance, perhaps cut down an aquilifer, or even a legatus? They could blunt or even break an attempt to get across before we could put enough men on the far bank to hold it. But if we destroy those chariots …’

  He waited in silence while the brothers considered his words.

  ‘But their chariot park is protected by the mass of their army. How can we hope to …?’

  Vespasianus fell silent at the look on his colleague’s face, and after a moment Geta pointed down at the Roman forces marshalling on the river’s eastern bank in the dawn murk.

  ‘Your Second Legion will be crossing that river soon enough, Flavius Vespasianus, under whatever missile attack the Britons can muster, pushing across to form a bridgehead for my Fourteenth to exploit. But if we don’t do something to prevent it, then just as your leading ranks step out of the water, they’re very likely to find themselves face-to-face with a cohort strength attack from the best swordsmen they’ve ever faced, almost certainly before they’ve had the time to reform any coherent line. Unless, of course, we can destroy those men’s ability to cross the ground quickly enough to be there when your men reach the far bank. An objective in which we are assisted by the fact that they’ve tethered the horses a sufficient distance from the main force to prevent any harm coming to them in the night, given the number of hungry tribesmen there must be over there.’

 
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