what the eastern tribes will do if we confiscate their weapons. I understand that you have someexperience of life amongst the natives and may therefore be in a unique position to tell us.”
Too many betrayals crowded Valerius’ brain. From the far side of the room, Corvus said, “Tribune, that’s unfair. Valerius is a duplicarius and only newly that. Were he a full decurion, he would not feel able to answer honestly now that you have told him the plan is the governor’s. Even I would only say this in private, but you have to believe me that the tribes will fight for their weapons as hard as any Roman would, possibly more so. Valerius would tell you the same if he had leave.”
“Then I give him leave. Duplicarius, I put you on notice that the discussion taking place in this room is private and I caution you not to repeat any part of it beyond these walls or in other company. Do I have your oath that this is so?”
Valerius nodded. “You do.” What else could he say? He had seen men at swordpoint given more freedom to move.
“Good, then I am similarly bound. I may give my father my advice based on your information and that of the prefect, but I will not reveal its source. Therefore you are free to answer as you believe. In fact, I command you to do so. What will the tribes do if we require them to give up their weapons?”
A man’s career could fall on such as this. When it is all that he has left, such a thing matters a great deal. Valerius took a steadying breath. Letting it out, he said, “If you disarm them, without question they will rebel.”
Images jostled for space in the crowded morass of his mind, none of them Roman, none of them suitable for a governor’s son. Selecting the few he could readily present totutored Latin sensibilities, Valerius said, “To the tribes, a warrior’s blade is a living thing, as precious as a hound or a well-trained battle mount, not simply because of its worth as a weapon but because it carries the dream of the one who wields it, the essence of the true self that only the gods know. In the sword resides the quality of the warrior’s courage, the honour, the pride, the humanity, the generosity of spirit—or lack of it. If it is a blade of the ancestors, passed down from father to daughter, from mother to son, then it carries also the ancestors’—”
“Stop. ‘From father to daughter, from mother to son’?”
They were not doe-eyes. The governor’s son was a pitiless black-eyed falcon and his eyes promised swift death to all who scuttled under their gaze. Quietly he said, “A centurion of the Second legion has been demoted to the ranks and twelve of his men flogged for stating in reports and under questioning that a woman led the greater mass of the Siluran warriors in their attack on the westernmost fort and that other women fought at her side. I questioned the men myself and they would not change their accounts. The governor believes this to be the fantasy of defeated minds. Was he right?”
Longinus had asked much the same question but he could safely be ignored where a governor’s son could not.
Her mark is the serpent-spear, painted in living blood … Yours could have matched it, the horse or the hare
Valerius would not—could not—look at Corvus. A name burned the air between them and was not to be spoken under any circumstances. In a voice that strained for normality and fell so very short, he said, “The governor is always right.”
He heard the silence crack.
“So he was wrong.”
Marcus Ostorius Scapula paced the length of the room. With his face to the far wall and his hands locked behind him, he said, “You were explaining why the eastern tribes will rebel if disarmed. If I understand you aright, they value their weapons as amongst their most prized possessions and if we were to confiscate these blades—if we were, say, to have a smith break them on an anvil in full sight of their people—we would cause them great pain