Dragons, Celts, Romans, Gods and Kings.
They all want George, why?
He’s just a boy, running. Running for his life!
Here's the first four chapters free!
'So the LORD God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.'
The chattering of George’s teeth, as loud as the cold north wind that blew down through the Caucasus Mountains. The old Roman legionary cloak offered scant protection, and neither did the short sword, nor the protective pendant that his father had demanded he guard with his life and never give away freely. George had no idea why it was so important, or why his father had been killed, or what the map led to, or, indeed, who Dewi was. But George knew his life, at the age of fifteen, depended on him finding the answers to these questions, whilst eluding the Celt who pursued him with a century of elite Roman troops, troops who followed the orders of this Celtic upstart with the loyalty of puppy dogs and the bravery of lions.
How could a murdering Celtic barbarian lead an elite Roman regiment, and why would they be chasing him?
* * *
‘Geronzio would like to see you in the tablinum,’ said the loyal servant.
This was a demand and George responded instantly, or at least as quickly as he could after he’d finished talking to his friend, Marcus, about the party that night. Then he sorted his best tunic for the party, which he knew Alicia would be at, then he ran quickly to his father.
‘Hello, Father, what a fine day it is. I understand you wanted to see me.’
‘You should have come quicker, we have urgent business,’ said George’s father. ‘You have to leave now and travel as quickly as you can, east, out of the empire.’
The sweat ran down Geronzio’s forehead on this cool autumn day and he glanced from side to side, expecting to be interrupted at any time.
‘Nothing must stop you. Take this scroll. All the information you need is in it. My travelling cloak, sword and shield are here for you to—’
‘What? What are you talking about?’ interrupted George.
‘All is explained in the scroll. Dewi will tell you the rest.’
George’s father unbuttoned his shirt and George’s eyes were drawn to the large crimson-red gemstone attached to a strong gold chain. The gemstone was a colour George had never seen before; it was enchanting, rich and fathomless. Geronzio handed it to George.
‘This is yours now. Guard it with your life. Now go quickly.’
He also handed George a bag of gold coins. George’s eyes widened and his mouth opened, he had never seen so much gold, let alone been given it. His father was not at all generous with money.
‘Go from this town now, and don’t return. Go at full speed. I’ve already left it late. The legion of Wolves has already arrived. If they have found me, then he will too, he won’t be far behind.’
‘But, Father, Marcus is having a party tonight and I’m seeing Alicia there.’
‘Don’t be a fool, flee now!’ Geronzio’s face reddened. ‘It’s too late for me, I will stay and delay your pursuer!’ warned Geronzio.
‘Oh, Father, I have lots of plans for this week, there’s the chariots at the next moon and—’ George didn’t finish the explanation of his social calendar.
‘As your father, I am ordering you to leave, NOW! I have seen to it that your provisions are ready, pack very lightly and buy things on the way.’
‘Yes, Father.’ George watched a fly fizzle and burn, then drop with a plop into the water around the candle on his father’s desk. The sun shone coldly through the garden and birds sang in the impluvium. George thought the party would be spectacular.
After a little consideration, George asked, ‘Oh, who is Dewi, and who isn’t far behind?’
‘It’s best you don’t know yet, then you can’t tell anyone. It is vital you don’t open the scroll until you are away from Neocesarium. Follow the scroll, a lot depends on it.’
Silence. George saw a butterfly alight on the palms around the peristylium.
Tonight would be a great night, he thought.
‘Go, pack travelling things, and be in the atrium in twenty minutes.’
George left with his head full of Alicia and Marcus’s party. The important quest that his father was having a tantrum over could wait. What could be more important than Marcus’s party? To miss that would put him outside the gossip for weeks.
No, George thought the party was too important to miss, as he packed no travelling gear in his pack, just his party clothes.
‘Well, I’m ready, Father.’
‘George, this is no jovial matter, you are a man now. I entrust you with a secret you must guard with your life.’
‘Father, Father, Father, don’t be so melodramatic. I’ll go see this David and be back in a week.’
‘I only wish that could be true. And his name is Dewi. I will buy you some time. Now fly! Don’t look back. I’ll be OK.’ These were the last words George would ever hear from his father.
George left the room with a happy skip, went out through the front door, exchanged greetings with some neighbours and continued to skip in through the front door of Marcus’s house. The quest his father had bestowed on him, not forgotten, but safely put to the back of his mind behind other much more important events.
‘Hi, Marcus, all ready for tonight?’ said George as he strolled in through the double doors of the largest, most extravagant villa in Neocesarium.
‘It’s not fancy dress, you know?’ giggled Marcus, a short thin pure Roman from the ruling class.
‘Shut up,’ said George as he quickly moved directly to the bedroom, ignoring the pleasantries addressed to him by the slaves. George closed the door excitedly and removed the old Roman cloak then quickly put on his best party clothes.
‘What’s the rush, you’re two hours early?’ asked Marcus.
‘It’s my father, he’s sent me on some crazy errand. He thinks I’m gone,’ replied George, still a little out of breath.
‘I’ve no idea, I think he’s losing it. I have to look for a man named Dewi.’
‘Why?’ Marcus paused then responded to his own question. ‘Sounds to me like he’s testing you. Yes, to see if you’re good enough to be a legionnaire.’
‘You could be right. Yeah. That’s it, he’s testing me. That’s why he gave me the shield, sword and cloak,’ said George.
‘Probably Dewi is an old friend of his, from the legion.’ A broad smile of awareness crossed Marcus’s face. ‘Yes, yes, today I saw the Wolf’s Head arrive, they’re your father’s old legion.’
‘Ahh, I’ll sort it out tomorrow, we’ve got a party to organise,’ replied George, not listening or hearing what his friend had said.
‘No worries, the servants have it sorted, wine from Italy, and food from our own kitchen, all we have to do is wait for the girls.’
‘Girl, for me there’s only one,’ George scolded Marcus.
‘Shut up, last week it was a different one,’ replied Marcus.
‘No, this is the real thing. Tonight is my night, and how could she resist me.’
Two hours and quite a lot of wine later, the guests began to arrive, all the cream of the Neocesarium youth. Anyone with any standing below the age of twenty was there. George hardly said a word to anyone as he quickly greeted every guest and then moved them away rudely, to be ready for Alicia.
She arrived, all scent and fluster. George stood, mouth wide in awe of her beauty, and was quickly ignored as she breezed past him to exchange news with a group of beautiful giggly teenage girls, who were equally excited, leaving George alone and downcast.
‘What’s up with her?’ George said.
‘There’s a hundred of Rome’s bravest in town,’ replied Marcus.
‘What?’ George asked.
‘The Wolf’s Head are in town.’
‘That can’t be true, my father would have known, that was his old regiment. Why didn’t you tell me this before?’
‘I did. You don’t listen! Well, they’re here, they arrived this afternoon. The centurion was on the main gate all evening. Looked like he was waiting for someone to me,’ said an angry Marcus.
‘No matter, we have girls to chat up. Come on, Marcus, I need your support.’ George dragged Marcus towards the girls.
From there, the night was a disaster. The girls talked incessantly about the brave, handsome soldiers and refused to succumb to the dubious charms of a couple of teenage boys, however well dressed and rich.
‘Over four hours wasted on a bunch of giggling, ungrateful girls,’ said George.
‘Not totally wasted, they have agreed to come riding with us in the morning. At least we can get away from the soldiers.’
‘I’ll work some of my magic and she’ll be mine.’ George rubbed his hands confidently.
‘Yes, sure. Just concentrate on staying on the horse.’
‘I’ll sneak back in the morning early, before my father wakes up, and get my riding gear,’ said George.
The party ended as quickly as it had begun. Marcus ordered a servant to go and make sure the horses were ready for the morning. Then the boys went to bed, leaving the slaves to clear up their mess and start laying the tables for breakfast.
George woke, after only three hours’ sleep, at 5 o’clock. It was still dark. He scrabbled for his clothes and quickly pulled his cloak over his shoulders to keep out the autumn chill.
He moved to the dining room, where the servants, still clearing the mess from the night before, quickly responded to seeing him with low bows.
‘I’d like breakfast now,’ ordered George.
He didn’t hear the replies of the servants as they quickly removed themselves to the kitchen. If he had, perhaps he wouldn’t have eaten his breakfast, or maybe he would have been a little more polite the next time.
The breakfast was a plate of cold meats, bread, olive oil and a glass of goat’s milk. George sat and finished the lot.
As he left the house, he failed to hear the servants discussing him, or to notice the way they looked at the rude young man with a disdain they reserved for the ruling Roman classes.
George walked slowly through the dark deserted streets, using the lanes to approach the rear of his house, so he could enter and leave without being seen. As he came within view of his street, he stopped. He could see figures at the end of the small alley leading to the rear of his home.
‘Hey, you can’t go down there!’ said one of three legionnaires guarding the entrance to the alley.
The legionnaires were all slightly taller than George, but George noticed each was at least three times his scrawny width.
‘I’m going home, excuse me.’ George tried to push through.
‘You might be, but this lane is out of bounds to anyone. So go somewhere else,’ said the soldier who seemed to be in charge.
‘Listen, I am the son of a very important man. I live further down this lane, now let me pass.’ George tried his best to sound confident.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, are you the son of Caesar? Because if you’re not, then you aren’t passing. Now, stop wasting my time and move along or I will personally teach you a few manners!’ the soldier shouted in George’s face.
George wasn’t brave and decided these soldiers could wait. He’d try the front entrance to his house.
This involved a quick detour down a couple of lanes that George rarely entered. He had to tiptoe carefully along the edge of the lane to avoid the open drains.
The sun was just rising as he rounded the corner and caught a full view of the front of his house. There was a group of about ten soldiers outside and another fifteen or twenty milling around the street.
George put his head down, under the hood of his cloak, and walked directly towards his house. He had hardly taken three paces when a strong hand gripped him.
‘Where do you think you’re going, boy?’ said another muscular soldier.
‘Home,’ said George.
‘This street is closed, go back to bed, little boy.’ The soldier laughed.
George was furious. He tried to push past the soldier but was flung very easily to the ground.
‘I said the street is—’
The soldier never finished his sentence, he was interrupted by a massive roar and flames shooting out of a house into the street. George and the soldier stared, open-mouthed, as black smoke and flames singed and licked at the street.
George got to his feet but couldn’t move as the horror of the situation struck him.
It was his house on fire, his home up in flames, all of his good clothes, his life, his bedroom, his books. Then a worse thought struck him: his father was in that burning house.
He charged forward. The first soldier was too busy, engrossed in the flames, to notice, but others saw him and grabbed him tightly as he tried to get to the roaring house.
‘Let me go, now!’ George shouted.
The fire took hold of the building. Each window belched acrid smoke and fire, taunting the soldiers to try and come near to save the inhabitants. But none of the soldiers ventured forth, they were held in fear and awe of the flames.
The only thing that held tight on the house was the solid oak double door; the hands on George also remained solid.
Then, as if by magic, the doors slowly opened and a surge of acrid smoke rolled from the doorway. The soldiers stood mesmerised as a figure emerged from the dying building, wrapped in a leather cloak. The cloak was steaming but not burning and the man walked easily towards the centurion who offered him help, but was pushed away with contempt.
The man removed the hood and George saw a huge, middle-aged Celtic man with long blond hair, a rough, singed beard and a long droopy Celtic moustache.
George dropped to his knees. It wasn’t his father. The legionnaire loosened his grip.
The Celt and the centurion in charge walked a few steps in the direction of George and started a heated discussion. George, on his knees, listened quietly.
‘What happened in there? You were supposed to talk to Geronzio and get some information,’ said the centurion.
‘I’ve got all the information I need,’ replied the massive Celt.
‘Geronzio spoke to you?’ asked the centurion.
‘Yes, he told me everything before he died.’
‘He was a brave man, one of us. He would never speak as easily as that to you!’ The Roman’s voice sounded angry. ‘His son, George, is travelling east. He has a day’s march on us, we must find him.’
George’s father was dead and George was looking at his killer. Their eyes met and George felt the ageless blue eyes stare at him. George fled and didn’t look back.
Augustus had led his troops into Neocesarium earlier that day, now he walked alone. He watched out over the walls and waited for the Celtic king, Brennus, to arrive. His orders had come straight from the Caesar in Rome. They were to help Brennus in any way he needed. He was expected to help a Celt! Even the thought of it made his pulse quicken.
He climbed the open steps to look over the surrounding plain and noticed a beggar sitting looking out over the parapets.
‘What business has a beggar on the walls of Neocesarium?’ said Augustus.
‘It is a good view for a free man,’ replied the beggar, who neither moved nor looked at Augustus.
‘When a beggar talks to a member of the imperial army he should stand and show some respect!’
‘I beg the pardon of such a mighty imperial warrior. I am unaccustomed to the customs of Rome,’ replied the beggar, still not moving or even looking at Augustus.
‘If you do not want to feel the edge of my sword, you will show a centurion the respect he deserves!’
‘I will show you the respect you deserve.’ The tone of the beggar’s voice did not vary and he neither moved nor showed any sign of reverence.
Augustus twitched. He was a highly decorated centurion whom everyone honoured or feared, never had anyone ignored him, not since he was a child.
‘Leave this wall now, I have business here and you have not.’
‘I obey your commands this time, but I fear you will wait on these walls in vain.’
The beggar stood and walked slowly down the stone steps. Augustus noticed his long blond hair hanging over his strange cloak and thought, he is old enough to know better than to wear his hair that long.
The centurion waited on that wall all day, then, as the sun set, he posted two of his best men to wait and call him when the Celt arrived, cursing the tardiness of Brennus.
As Augustus reached the bottom of the stone steps, he once again saw the beggar.
‘I told you to be gone.’
‘Did he come?’
‘It’s none of your business. I suggest you show me some respect and stand when you speak to me. Or better still, don’t speak. I have no business with a beggar!’ said Augustus.
‘I told you your wait was in vain.’
‘I suggest you get out of my sight, now.’
As the beggar turned to look at Augustus, the centurion noticed his haggard look and unkempt beard. The beggar raised his head and looked the soldier in the eyes, his blue eyes unnerving.
‘You dare look a Roman soldier in the eyes. I will teach you some manners! I will show you your place!’
Augustus aimed a swift kick at him, but was frustrated by the speed of the beggar, who drew himself to his full height, four fingers taller than the Roman, and a good deal heavier.
Now, Augustus noticed the beggar was a Celt. He hated the Celts for being so uncivilised, as had many Romans since the sacking of Rome by a Celtic army 600 years earlier. This Roman always carried with him these stories of any enemy that dared defy the might of Rome. This Celt would have to pay for his history and his insolence. The Roman drew his gladius.
‘Oh, mighty warrior, put away your sword, we are all friends. There is no war here.’
‘Don’t mock me, you coward.’
The Celt took two steps backwards, dropped his cloak and drew a long Celtic blade.
The two soldiers on lookout rushed down the steps to help the centurion. Before the first had reached the bottom, he had his sword unsheathed.
‘Three brave Romans to take on one cowardly beggar,’ said the beggar.
The Romans were puzzled for there was no fear in his eyes. They were the Wolf’s Head, the best troops in the empire, each one handpicked by the Caesar himself for their bravery and skill in battle. The regiment had not known defeat for over twenty years. Not since their humiliation at the hand of the Raven King himself and his Celtic warriors that had forced their final withdrawal from Britannia. They had humiliated the might of Rome and Augustus had one of their number cornered.
‘Just come quietly now and we won’t hurt you too much. Put down your sword.’
Three of Rome’s most disciplined troops stood smiling at the beggar. The beggar returned their smile.
‘Come now, put down your sword and we will treat you fairly,’ said Augustus.
The first Roman moved forward to take the sword from the beggar. He pushed his square shield, embossed with a golden wolf’s head, towards the Celt. Before his shield reached its target the long sword of the barbarian had swept it aside, and a swift elbow, directly on the bridge of the nose, had sent the legionnaire to the ground. Blood poured from the badly broken nose and the tears in the Roman’s eyes meant he couldn’t see to continue. The second Roman had moved quickly and slashed with his sword at the Celt, who twisted his body, so that the blade slid harmlessly past him. With the Roman now off balance, a knee to the groin brought him down in agony, but with no real damage, apart from that to his ego and honour.
Augustus moved more cautiously, knowing the Celts excelled at hand-to-hand fighting and loved nothing more than a street brawl.
‘Before we continue, I have something for you,’ said the Celt, drawing a parchment from inside his cloak.
Augustus looked puzzled and continued to move slowly towards the Celt, waiting for him to make the first move. The Celt did, but it was not the thrust of a sword or a fist, it was the thrust of the roll of parchment towards the Roman.
‘Read it now!’ came the order from the Celt, who seemed to have grown massively in stature and was an imposing figure.
‘I don’t take orders from beggars,’ the soldier replied proudly.
‘I am no beggar, read it.’
The Roman, who was twenty-five years old and had served in the army for ten years, sweated and gripped his sword until his knuckles were white.
‘Take it and read it,’ said the Celt.
A swift kick put the second soldier, who had crawled back towards the beggar, back in the dust.
Augustus took the roll of parchment and slowly opened it, his eyes widening with fear as he spotted the stamp of the Caesar.
Less than half an hour later, Augustus was sitting with Brennus, the Raven King, the Celtic king of Briton, in the town tavern. Brennus ripped at half a roasted lamb and sloshed down jars of mead. Augustus drank wine and ate with the implements provided.
‘There are twelve-year-olds in my own town who can fight better than those two legionnaires.’ The Celt laughed.
‘Rome is a peaceful country; we do not train youngsters to fight.’
‘Neither do we, they just do it for fun.’
‘Barbarians,’ said Augustus.
‘We do not murder innocent civilians, drive people into slavery and take their countries,’ replied Brennus. ‘Let me fill you in with a little history. Many centuries ago, my people faced a new power, or should I say, in our migrations we came across an ancient power, in the north. We faced that power and it fled south. With a great Celtic army we pursued our enemy south. Rome saw our armies as a direct threat and gathered her armies to meet us. My people inflicted a great defeat on Rome. A defeat that, later, my people paid dearly for.
‘That’s ancient history.’
‘Yes, but the reason we came south is the same reason that I travel east now. My people never finished the task we started. Now it is left for me to finish.’
‘Why did your ancestors bring such a mighty army south? I can answer that. You barbarians were after our wealth and treasure. Rome wasn’t enough for you, after that you looted and pillaged Delphi and Macedonia as well,’ said the Roman.
‘They weren’t our goal, they just got in the way,’ replied Brennus.
‘The way of what?’
‘Esus.’ Brennus spat the name, as if it was poison on his tongue.
‘Who?’ asked Augustus.
‘At Delphi, my people had Esus cornered, others came to his aid and we were defeated,’ Brennus replied.
‘Who is Esus?’
‘Esus is the lord of the dragons; he is as evil as any dragon that has lived.’
‘Dragons?’ laughed Augustus
‘Yes, dragons. For many years, Esus has slept. It was my people who dealt a near-mortal blow to him, as we were being defeated. Esus then fled and has hidden and slept until recently. He has now awakened in the north and is beginning his return to strength. As yet, few other dragons have awakened. He is still weak and can be defeated. But soon he will gain the power he needs, soon he will—’
‘You are searching for the lord of the dragons alone?’ questioned Augustus.
‘Yes, I am a dragon hunter, but I’m not alone, I’ve got the Wolf’s Head. Caesar has put you under my charge and placed full trust in me.’
‘Dragons, I’m sure my men will be terrified.’ Augustus laughed in the face of the Celtic king.
‘These orders are from the Caesar. Do you want to disobey his direct orders, or will you trust me?’
‘Follow you, I will, trust you, never,’ replied Augustus.
‘Spoken like a true Roman, unquestionable loyalty. But always be careful, blind faith will get you killed,’ stated Brennus.
‘Don’t push me, Brennus. What do you need of us?’ asked Augustus.
‘Before first light I want your troops blocking all exits and allowing no one to enter or leave the house of Geronzio,’ ordered Brennus.
‘Geronzio is a hero, he must be honoured, not surrounded and caged,’ said the Roman.
‘So I’ve heard, but your orders come straight from the Caesar. First light!’
With this, Brennus stood, left the dark bar and ascended the creaking wooden stairs to one of the small guest rooms. Augustus was left alone, with only his anger and his dented pride for company.
‘I’m glad you’re early,’ the thick Celtic accent said as Brennus moved out of the shadow of a building.
‘My men are ready as requested.’ Augustus gave no greeting and showed his dislike of the Celt with his tone.
‘Clear all nearby buildings, block the alley to the rear, close this road. I want men on the roofs, and across the road from the front door. No one is to enter or leave.’
The Romans moved stealthily, but the task was easier said than done. The neighbours didn’t want to leave at this hour in the morning and they quite rightly said so.
The troops ignored the protests and moved out the owners, slaves and servants.
When the Romans were in position, a signal was given.
Silence reigned heavy, and in bright moonlight Brennus walked to the door of Geronzio’s house. He had his leather cloak wrapped tightly around his shoulders even though the night was mild.
The front door swung open easily and quietly, it was unlocked. Brennus cautiously entered, the night was shut out as the door swung closed.
Brennus was in the large open-air atrium, but didn’t notice the ornate fountain or the carved oak doors that led to the bedrooms. He only noticed the shadow that rose before him.
‘Good morning, Brennus, do you people never give up?’ the voice boomed.
‘I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time, now my time has come,’ replied Brennus, his sword unsheathed and ready.
‘I hate to disappoint you, but your time is past.’
George ran unseen in the confusion of the flames. He didn’t run to the house to rescue his father, even though he thought for certain he was dead or dying. He ran away scared, scared that the man in the strange cloak would come after him and deal him the same fate as his father. He stumbled and hit the floor hard; the dust in his mouth tasted of blood. But panic pushed him to his feet and George ran on, on to his friend Marcus’s house.
George didn’t enter. The adrenaline had taken over, and he was thinking very clearly; these soldiers would be out looking for him. So he entered through a low window into Marcus’s room, unheard and unseen in the early dawn light.
As George crept towards the bed of his friend, he was scared, scared for himself but more scared at the thought of involving Marcus. His life had changed, his life was in danger. He had to complete the task his father had asked. He had to find Dewi. He needed help to leave the city, but first he had to hide and stay hidden from those savages that would now come after him.
The sweat dripped off his forehead and splashed on the sleeping boy.
‘What’s that, wha—’ The sound was stifled by George’s hand.
‘Quiet please, it’s me, George.’
‘What’s the time? Am I late for riding? Are the girls waiting? OK, I’ll be there now,’ mumbled Marcus.
‘Shh, listen carefully, Marcus, I’m in danger, real danger.’
‘No, you’ve not been caught at Alicia’s?’
‘No. No, listen.’
When George had explained everything, and Marcus had woken up, the room was silent. Marcus thought first it was a joke, then a dream, but reality proved more durable when he pinched himself whilst staring at the white face peering at him in the grim light.
‘So, what are you going to do?’ asked Marcus.
‘Can I stay here today while the soldiers are about? I’ll try and leave tonight.’
‘Yes, no problem.’ Marcus was a true friend.
There was a sharp knock on the front door. The boys silently looked at each other.
‘Hello, I’m looking for Marcus, son of Andrieus,’ the Roman soldier said forcefully.
‘I’m sorry, but he’s asleep. He doesn’t get up yet,’ replied the equally forceful servant.
‘Then wake him now!’ The Roman puffed his chest at the servant.
The servant now looked a little timid and walked to the door of Marcus’s room and gently tapped the door.
She tapped on the door with a little more urgency.
‘What, am I late for my riding?’ replied Marcus.
‘Then what are you doing waking me at this ungodly hour?’ Marcus scolded the unfortunate wench.
‘Sir, there are three soldiers at the door, they want to talk with you.’
‘Tell them I’m asleep. Tell them to come back later, stupid girl,’ said Marcus.
‘Yes, sir.’ she mumbled and looked confused.
The servant moved back to the front door and relayed the message to the soldiers.
‘We will not wait for him to be ready!’
The soldiers pushed their way past the complaining servant and called for Marcus.
He appeared, wrapped hastily in bed sheet, face red with rage.
‘What the hell is going on? Who do you think you are? Do you know who I am? You have just forcibly entered a senator’s house!’ shouted Marcus.
‘We’re looking for George, son of Geronzio. Have you seen him?’ answered the soldier.
‘Leave this house immediately!’
‘Look, little boy, your friend is in danger. If you have seen him or know where he is I suggest you tell me.’ The largest of the three soldiers spoke to Marcus as the others stood silently.
‘I’ve not seen George for some time. He was at the party last night, then he left early this morning. I have no idea what time, it was still dark and I haven’t seen him since,’ replied Marcus. ‘What’s this all about?’
Marcus turned to the servant.
‘Hey, girl, what time did George leave?’
‘Not long before sunrise, he was in a rush.’
‘Yes, that’s enough, off you go. There, he left before sunrise.’ Marcus repeated the reply of the serving girl as if the soldiers couldn’t hear her.
‘Well, you won’t mind if we have a look around, will you?’
‘What, my father will hear about this!’ Marcus replied pompously.
The soldiers pushed Marcus aside and started searching in each room. Luckily for George, the search wasn’t thorough, as the soldiers believed the serving girl and he was not seen under the table in Marcus’s room.
‘What do you want with George? What’s the problem?’ asked Marcus.
‘We need to find him, that’s our orders, so if he calls back, send him straight to us.’
‘Yes, I’ll be sure to tell him,’ lied Marcus.
The soldiers left the house as quickly as they had arrived and Marcus quickly returned to his room.
‘What trouble are you in?’ asked Marcus.
‘I’ve no idea.’ George wasn’t lying or even hiding the truth. He hadn’t even looked at the scroll his father had given him. The thought of his father made him sit on the bed, head in hands.
‘My father’s dead,’ George said quietly.
‘Dead, killed by a soldier, he looked like a Celt.’
‘Yes, and I’m going to get revenge.’
‘Why?’ replied a shocked Marcus.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Snap out of it, George. Those soldiers were serious. We have to find out what they wanted and why they wanted you.’
George wasn’t listening any more, he was scrabbling through his pack for the scroll. The scroll his father had given him. The scroll that could help him understand why his father had been killed. The scroll that looked so ordinary had to hold some key.
I’m sorry to have to put you through this but it is vital you find Dewi. He lives on the south slopes of Elbrus. When you meet him tell him Esus has awoken and is coming. He will know what to do. The army of Esus still sleeps and awaits him.
Follow the map and never give away the pendant, the heart, willingly.
Brennus also travels east. He will take no prisoners. He travels with the Wolf’s Head and the backing of Caesar.
Take care, my beloved son.
The quest that my father’s father started has fallen to you to complete. Dewi must be returned, this must be ended!
May the gods aid you.
The letter was short and poorly scribed. George had no idea what to do; the map attached was poor with few details. The route wound east along the coast road out of the empire, into Colchis, through the town of Phasis (which George had never heard of), and then turned eastwards directly into the Caucasus. This would be a long journey. George had hardly left Neocesarium in his life.
‘So what’s the plan?’ asked Marcus.
‘I’ve no idea,’ replied George.
‘Well, I’ve got a date with two girls soon. I can use the ride to scout around.’
‘Good idea, but what about me?’ replied George.
‘Stay here. I’ll give the servants the day off, so you can rest. This evening we can decide what we do. We need to think.’
‘We?’ questioned George.
‘Yes, I’m already hiding a fugitive. No way am I leaving you to do this alone.’
Marcus left before George could reply and George had to accept this as there was no possibility of following him and arguing.
George spent the day planning all kinds of revenge on his father’s killer as he dozed in and out of a restless sleep. He ate nothing. He glanced through the shutters that kept out the summer heat and kept in the warmth of the fire in winter. There were two guards in the street. Those guards had been there all day, unmoving and unrelenting in their task. At the rear in the alley there were two more.
Marcus returned, sweating and smelling of horses. The guards watched him but neither approached nor reacted.
‘Well, what did you find out?’
‘This is big, there are soldiers everywhere looking for you,’ said Marcus.
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ replied George.
‘Well, your beloved Alicia knows how to turn a soldier’s head.’
‘You didn’t tell her where I am, did you?’
‘No, she wasn’t that curious. I told her you had left in the early hours and everyone was searching for you. Then we ran into the first guards and I couldn’t stop her from talking to them,’ replied Marcus.
George was a little taken aback by Alicia’s lack of thought as to his whereabouts. She could at least have been a little concerned about his disappearance. She was, after all, his only true love.
‘Great, Alicia spent all day talking to the legionnaires?’ asked George.
‘Well, not all day, we went riding. But they were everywhere. There’s no way out of the city. They’re a big-headed bunch and they liked Alicia,’ said Marcus.
‘Look, you’re supposed to be helping me, not getting me depressed. What did you find out?’ asked George.
‘Calm down, that’s what I was explaining. The troops loved talking to Alicia and told her everything. They are looking for you.’
‘Yes, we know that,’ replied George.
‘But they think you have already gone east, possibly early this morning. They aren’t worried, they say they can outmarch anyone and will catch you within a day or two,’ Marcus said with a smile.
‘Not travelling east they won’t.’ George returned the smile.
‘They’re leaving at dawn tomorrow, but they’re not happy. They have to answer to a Celt,’ remarked Marcus, and continued, ‘Can you believe that, the Wolf’s Head answering to a Celt?’
‘A Celt, that must be the one that killed my father. Did you get his name? Who is he? I will kill him, by the gods, who is he? Some Celt dares to attack a member of my family. He will pay dearly for this. Caesar will hear of this!’ said George.
This outburst by George was well out of character. George always liked to be in control of his emotions and rarely lost his temper, as he saw this as very un-Roman and a sign of bad breeding.
‘That is the biggest problem, Caesar already knows. He sent him, he works under Caesar’s orders. He has a direct order from the Caesar.’ Marcus stared at his feet.
‘Caesar fought alongside my father, he would not allow his death. He was a friend of his. Who is this low breed that spreads such lies?’
‘This is the strangest bit, his name is Brennus.’ Marcus said this as if George should know this name.
‘Brennus! Never heard of him!’
‘Keep your voice down, there are soldiers in the street, and the servants will be back soon. If you want to finish this mission before we leave this house, keep shouting,’ Marcus whispered very loudly.
‘Yes, yes. But how can I possibly leave this house or this city without being seen? The streets are full of soldiers and every road out is being watched.’
‘Well, we need a plan,’ suggested Marcus.
‘All I have is this letter and this map,’ said George as he passed both scrolls to his eager friend. Marcus studied them in silence for a few minutes, mouth open and giving the odd gasp.
‘Wow, this is outside the empire and past the kingdom of Colchis. This is a hell of a journey. This will take us months.’
‘Us?’ George replied and looked at Marcus, his eyes red and sore.
‘I’m part of this now, I’ve lied to the soldiers, and I’ve hidden you. No, I’m coming. Besides you need all the help you can get,’ said Marcus.
‘There’s not going to be a journey if we can’t leave Neocesarium and all the roads are blocked and the troops are searching for me and that fool Brennus is looking for me.’
‘We need a plan.’
‘Yes, so you say. But this Celt said my father had given him information. Why would my father do that? My father was a great warrior, he wouldn’t have told that Celt anything about me. But he did. What did he do to him?’ George was confused.
‘This Brennus is no normal man, he’s a dragon hunter! Don’t you know that name?’
‘No, should I?’
‘Don’t you ever listen in history? Rome, Delphi—’
‘A dragon hunter, what the hell is that? Dragons are from myths. Stories to tell children, not for adults, and history is in the past,’ interrupted George.
‘Look, I’m telling you what Alicia told me. The troops aren’t happy at what happened to your father. He was one of them and now they have to follow a Celtic freak who chases myths. So I think we may have a chance, because the soldiers I saw didn’t look interested in finding you, they spent hours telling manly tales to Alicia. The last thing they want is a long march east.’
‘Right, so we need a plan,’ said George, quickly changing the subject away from Alicia.
‘Yes, we do,’ replied Marcus.
Then the room lapsed into silence as the two youngsters pretended to think of a plan, in reality just waiting for the other one to come up with something. Both of them, so used to being spoilt and having everything done for them, suddenly became lost, with no one to turn to and a problem that had no clear solution.
The silence lasted, they both waited for each other. This could have gone on for eternity, but their lack of thinking was disturbed by sounds coming from the street outside the window. They took advantage of this commotion to come out of their unthinking state and moved to the shutters. It had started to rain heavily. These late summer storms could be heavy and prolonged, often everything was flooded, and already the main road was beginning to look like a river. The Roman guards were leaving and being replaced by local watchmen, to the obvious relief of the Romans. The soldiers crouched close to the building, by Marcus’s window, for shelter, as they briefed the local watchmen that were to replace them.
‘You are to guard this building twenty-four hours a day! If you see any strange comings or goings, inform the Governor immediately. Do you understand?’ the Roman soldier ordered, raising his voice, partly to be heard and partly to show his authority over the watchmen.
‘Yes,’ replied the watchman, without removing his eyes from the wet wall of water cascading right about where he was expected to stand.
‘If you see any sign of George, son of Geronzio, it is vital the Governor is told instantly! Are you listening?’ barked the Roman
‘Yes,’ came the uninterested reply.
‘We leave tomorrow, so it is down to you,’ the soldier was barking at the local watchmen.
Getting no further reaction, the legionnaire walked quickly into the rain and out of sight. The watchman didn’t take up his spot but sat under the cover of the house, out of sight of the front door.
‘See, I told you, they’re leaving. I’ll bet they sleep tonight and go at first light in search of you,’ said Marcus.
‘Yes, but I suppose at least I’m one step ahead of that stupid hunter by being one step behind him.’
‘Yes, yes, that’s the plan. We can follow them. We can take a few horses and go behind them. What do you think?’
‘Sounds good to me.’ George tried to sound confident, but he thought an elite Roman regiment would cover its tail as well as its head. But for tonight he would let Marcus think his plan was good. He had no other plan and at the moment had no energy left to think of one.
Brennus spent the whole day ordering the troops to cover every exit to Neocesarium and sent many further afield, covering all roads east, with orders to report back any incident, however small. The troops didn’t like taking orders from a Celt, or any non-Roman. But any who questioned were quickly and severely disciplined by Augustus.
‘We need to be ready to move out at first light tomorrow, we must travel light, prepared for battle and carrying enough battle rations for two days,’ Brennus ordered a soldier.
The legionnaire glanced at Augustus.
‘Is there a problem, soldier?’ asked Augustus
The soldier departed at a run; no legionnaire ever lifts an eye to question Augustus.
‘We must move quickly if we want to catch George.’
‘Do we need him? It’s a dragon I thought you were after, not a foolish little boy.’
‘He is the son of a great warrior, somewhere in him lies the soul of his father. I think one day I can find a use for that,’ sniggered Brennus.
Augustus could no longer hold his tongue. ‘What happened to Geronzio? The men aren’t happy, they want to know why he died. He was a hero to most of them, his death should be avenged. Why?’ asked Augustus.
‘He was a hero, and in his name I will track his son. I will say when he is avenged. Now, you deal with your men. Get me information. I need to find Esus and stop that stupid boy!’
The rest of the day, Brennus paced the walls of the city and interrogated every soldier who came back with any news, in between bouts of placing strange-smelling poultices on the burns that he had clearly received that morning.
Brennus did find news and it put a smile on his face. It was the first time Augustus had seen him smile; this smile put more fear in the heart of the Roman. The smile could mean the death of another innocent Roman.
‘So, the boy is a fool. He thinks a party is more important than following his father’s quest.’
Brennus had spoken to the legionnaire who had spent rather too much time interrogating Alicia.
‘He spent the night at his friend’s house. Didn’t we have that house searched this morning?’ Brennus asked Augustus.
‘Yes, we did. There was nothing there. I’ll call for the soldiers now.’
Almost instantly a large legionnaire appeared. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Julius, did you find anything at that house this morning?’
‘No sir,’ replied the soldier.
‘Nothing?’ barked Brennus. ‘There was a party there last night. George was there, what time did he leave? Where did he go? Did he leave alone?’
The soldier looked towards Augustus.
‘Well, answer!’ he ordered.
‘He was at the party, a slave said he left just before first light.’
With this, Brennus flew into a rage. ‘You fool, why wasn’t I told this? He was still here this morning! He can’t be far. Discipline this legionnaire!’
‘Who is to be disciplined is my decision! You may leave, Julius.’
The soldier took less time to leave than he had to get there; even the large Roman looked scared and small in the company of Brennus.
‘Your men have acted like fools. I could have had the boy in my hands by now!’
‘And to what purpose, an innocent boy? What good is he to you?’
‘That is my business, he has the same goal as me and I have to stop him.’
‘He won’t go far—’ Augustus responded quietly.
But again the Roman was cut mid-sentence. ‘Get your men prepared. We march at first light!’
Brennus left and Augustus was ready to kill him. If he did find the boy, this Celt would not kill another Roman, Augustus would see to that.
Before dawn the Wolf’s Head were assembled and ready to march.
‘A fine body of men, ready to do your bidding,’ quipped Augustus.
‘They look good, but they are little match for a dragon.’
‘Yes, dragons, of course.’
A snigger came from the assembled troops, and was silenced with a glance from Augustus.
‘Give the order to march.’
‘Where are we heading?’ asked Augustus.
‘First north, we head for the port of Samsun, and from there we strike east along the coast road.’
‘But there’s nothing there, only mountains, impassable mountains.’
‘Give the order!’ Brennus was in no mood to discuss his plans.
‘Move out!’ Augustus gave the order and a hundred of the best-trained legionnaires headed north at double pace.
It was done and Neocesarium was left behind before first light.