Dreaming the Serpent Spear

Free Dreaming the Serpent Spear by Manda Scott

Book: Dreaming the Serpent Spear by Manda Scott Read Free Book Online
Authors: Manda Scott
Tags: Fiction, Historical, _NB_Fixed, _rt_yes, onlib
is dead, knifed on Nero’s orders for being too beautiful and too brave and too decorated in battle. Which should be a warning to us all; you can be beautiful and brave or brave and decorated but the gods won’t help you if you are all three. So all we have to do is stay alive and stay ugly and we’re fine. The second is easy. The first will only happen if we get some rest. The dreamers and warriors across the straits on Mona will not give quarter just because you are love-sore and too tired to fight properly. Go to sleep. The world will be the same in the morning.”
    A long time later, when the breathing of the others had settled to sleep, Flavius lay on his back, staring up at the sag of the tent roof and the rain. “It still isn’t too late to tell the governor,” he said, into the dark.

    “I DON’T CARE IF YOU HAVE TO SINK THE FOUNDATIONS PAST the floor of the ocean and ship every godforsaken stone one at a time from Iberia, you will build the baths here and they will not slide into the sea at the first kiss of a winter storm. Do I make myself clear?”
    It was shortly after noon and the sky above the fortress of the IXth legion was as grey as if it were dusk. The easterly wind knifing in from the sea was sharp with salt and it scoured equally the faces of Petillius Cerialis, legate of the Legio IX Hispana, the blue-lipped, shivering Iberian master mason who stood up to his ankles in seepage in the trench at his feet, and the five legionaries who stood behind, armed and ready to defend their general against everything except weather, leaking foundations and the intransigence — or stubborn common sense — of the province’s only master stone mason.
    To Cerialis’ left, the winter fortress of the first three cohorts of the IXth legion, strategically placed at the northern end of the ancient trading route known to the localtribes as the ancestors’ way, took command of what height existed in the flat lands north of the wash, spreading up and over the low crest of the hill. Thus advantaged, the watch-towers were given an easy view of the sea, and, regrettably, an equally easy exposure to whatever storms the gods might choose to visit upon the shores.
    There were no storms on the day Cerialis elected to order the building of the baths for his men, only the knife-wind, and the beginnings of trade on the drove road below, and of work in the salt pans to the north, and a fishing boat newly set into harbour, mobbed by a havoc of screaming gulls.
    The wind clearly carried the sound of the birds’ hunger; they drowned out the master mason’s answer entirely. By those watching, the man could be seen to open and close his mouth. He quite clearly shook his head. He spread his palms and raised his brows and began, soundlessly, to explain the details of engineering and bath house foundations to the legate — and then abandoned all effort, not for the gulls or the wind or the growing frustration on Cerialis’ face, but for the hammer of hooves on the stone of the drove road, that became, even as he lowered his palms and turned south with the others to look, the stumble of cavalry horses driven past all endurance on rising turf, and then the shatter of chain mail such as a man might make who has ridden himself beyond exhaustion and whose legs will not hold him upright when he dismounts, so that he falls to his face at the feet of his legate.
    Or, not his legate: the prostrate man was not of the IXth legion. The mason, climbing out of his waterlogged trench, recognized the goat-headed fish of the XXth on the bridle and saddle cloth of the spent horse that stood withheaving flanks ahead of him. Then, late, he recognized the encircled elephant that was the personal imprint of the governor of Britannia on the satchel that lay now on the rank grass of the hillside, its seal cracked open by the force of the messenger’s fall.
    The gulls were quieter now; a new boat had set out to sea and they followed it, spreading

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