The Eagle

Another day, very far away from here.

    The day was hot.  Very hot.

It was one of the things centurion Suetonius was thinking about as the sun beat down hard and merciless against his century of men and the offensively green vale they stood in.  Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead and stung his already fairly stung, only slightly drunken eyes.  Looking back, he could see the world turn to water just above the armour of his increasingly restless legionnaires.  It was very hot.  Probably too hot to be standing out in the sun in full battle regalia.  The Gauls across from them fought naked sometimes, the savages.  Looking up at the sun he supposed it made sense.  He also supposed it was the mark of cultivation not do what made sense.  Suetonius sighed and felt a bit sad.  Sometimes he thought too much about depressing things, a state of being drunkenness did not contribute positively too.

A loud uproar shook him into focusing on the walled village he and his men were standing so wisely across from.  Exercising the entirety of his available mental acuity, Suetonius barely traced the arc of a dark spot in the air as it sailed towards him and ultimately smacked him in the face.

''You alright, centurion?  You've got some red on you.''

''Oh shut up, Garrus.''  Suetonius looked down.  ''Well boys, looks like talks with the natives broke down and they aren't letting the way across the river up.  Get ready to civilize some folk.''  He heard the scrape of metal as a hundred swords were pulled out of scabbards with practised ease.  His own gladius felt familiar in his hand.  It was an old friend, worn and used, but still sharp.  The principle instrument of civilization.  Suetonius shook his head.  Too much thinking.  Trying to distract himself, his gaze was drawn to the golden eagle of Rome the legionnaire next to him held.  Admittedly, it did clear his head, though someone seemed to have poured light into his head.

''Told you that wineskin was a bad idea, centurion.''

''Dammnit, Garrus, shut up or I will geld you.''  Suetonius looked ahead, blinking.  The village gates had opened and a mob of Gauls ran out to stand howling and cajoling before their own walls, beating nasty looking weapons on rectangular shields.  They were tall people, Suetonius saw, though on reflection most men seemed tall to the swarthy Roman.  They were pale and lean as well, tightened by hard winters and hard inter-tribal conflict (or so Caesar had said at Actium).  Metal bracers, trophies and the like were clasped around their arms and necks, and the warriors who stood shirtless (which was most of them) were covered in a kind of dye that Suetonius had come to understand were markings of their gods.  Their hair was the colour of fire.  The group howled and stomped even more excitedly as one Gaul in particular came out with a long, golden, S-shaped tube carved in the likeness of a wolf that Suetonius had also come to understand was a trumpet of some kind.  Suetonius had thought the Gallic war-horn quaint once.  He knew differently now.

''Hold firm, stay in close ranks.  Remember to keep your shield on the man to your left and don't worry about the man on your right.  Except for you, Garrus. I'm probably going to let you die.''

''It's good to know Rome is built on men like you, sir.''

The Gaul raised to long-horn up, where it stood a good metre tall.  He brought the thing to his lips.  A deep, deep note rang out and shook just about every bird out their feathers everywhere.  The Gauls gave a sustained howl this time and surged forward, a mass of tangled flesh and iron.

''Mars!'' Suetonius roared.

''Exulte!''

''Mars!'' he cried again as he stepped around the head of the diplomat who had been sent with them.  Savages.

''Exulte!''

''Mars!''  There was really only one god he bothered putting any faith in, he realized.

''EXULTE!''

It was a beautiful day.

The sound was possibly no where near as bad as the crunch felt.  He was covered in strips of iron, but that hardly stopped a block of iron hitting him not hurt.  The impact almost made him fall, but he leaned back on his ankles and swung down with his gladius.  The orange-haired Gaul in front of him did reel back, a bright red slash across his chest.  The man's face went as red as his hair and Suetonius thought he was actually trying to scream even louder, though Suetonius couldn't hear it.  He could only plunge forward, jabbing in and yanking cruelly out again as he had learned to do so long ago.  He saw the man's intestines on the grass, and turned to the next man.

The Gauls were like fire, flailing with their long swords wildly, jumping or leaping were they could, and howling, always howling like a pack of wolves that didn't need to breathe.  Suetonius himself stayed calm, almost clinical about the whole affair.  The temptation to soil himself was always there, but he found that acquiescing the need drove one insane, so he didn't do it.  He stuck to jabbing, twisting, retracting.  He saw a Gallic sword cut through a Roman’s throat and felt hot heat on his face.  He jabbed, twisted and retracted.  Faces and flesh swam past him in a haze, but he simply kept his arm steady and jabbed, twisted and retracted.  He vaguely head a deep concussion of sound that almost pierced the din.  Periodically he slashed.  He had to slash at some points, as it got impractical to only stab, especially when the haze got more than a few feet away from him.  Just, jab, twist, retract.  There were many Gauls, too many.  Far too many.  They’d only sent a century.  It wasn’t enough…

He felt a heavy blow ring against his helmet.  The world spun.  He went to his knees.  He smelled hot iron.  It was very hot.  The world went red.




Suetonius came to in the middle of a burning town.  Strange, round houses with conical roofs that he guessed were once thatched surrounded him, wreathed in flame, and his hands seemed dyed red.  He saw the men of his century holding torches ad armfuls of metal bracers as they dragged women behind them.  He looked behind him through the gate and saw a pile of corpses, then to his right, where a legionnaire carried the eagle.  It glinted dully in his eyes.  His ears were full of screams and raucous laughter, his hand full of a sword.  Suetonius made his way out the gates and onto the battlefield, the legionnaire in tow.  His men would be busy for the next while.

He looked desperately through the piles of bodies until he found what he was looking for.  His foot found it, the smooth tube out of place among the swords and shields of the dead.  Sheathing his gladius, he bent to pick up the war-horn.  He wondered how old it was.  How long the Gauls here had used it.

He wondered if anyone would remember the horn after he and his men packed up and left.  If he left it there, would there be any trace of who these people were?  He thought about the head of the envoy somewhere beyond the killing field and dropped the horn.  He snorted.  He'd brought them civilization and they'd refused it.  The eagle moved on without them.

The End

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