Authors: Griff Hosker
Warrior of Rome
Published by Griff Hosker 2013
Copyright © Sword Books Ltd Second Edition
The author has asserted their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
To the Romans, without them and their incredible efforts the world might be a totally different place.
Pannonia 50 AD close to the border with the Marcomanni confederation of tribes
He had always been called Wolf. It was not the name the shaman had given him at his birthing ceremony but only his mother remembered that name. His father had named him Wolf, partly because of his appetite but more for his ferocious nature, even when playing with his friends. He would never give in, even when fighting boys much older than he. The older boys learned to walk carefully around the Wolf who never seemed to mind the cuts, bruises and breaks he received. His father was proud of his son’s nature and looked forward to the time when he would ride with his son to raid the neighbouring tribes. He was fated never to do so for, in the boy’s tenth year his father was killed leading a raid on the Marcomanni in the lands beyond the new Roman frontier. It meant that at a young age he became the only boy in the home for his brothers had also perished in that ill fated raid. The other men in the tribe, who survived were bitter. They resented the fact that, having been conquered by the Romans, the Romans had imposed their own laws of peace upon the warlike Pannonians. War was a way of life for the fierce warriors and they had been forced to fight further away from the lands they knew. The elders wondered if the people ought to try a different way of life.
His father had died six years earlier and the enforced responsibility made a change in Wolf. He would be as his father was; a leader and he gathered about him the young men of the tribe. They were the ones who did not want the new, peaceful way of life advocated by the wise elders. Wolf did not directly disobey the council but he and his followers took to practising in secret for the day when they would be old enough to go to war.
The chief of the tribe was Abad and he had wisely not joined in the raid which had cost so many warriors their lives. He had benefited from the absence of any rivals for the power in the tribe. He encouraged herding and farming as opposed to raiding but he watched, carefully, Wolf and his fellows as they grew into a band of warriors. It worried him for in Wolf he saw a rival. His own son was but eight years old and the sixteen year old Wolf had almost enough men following him to wrest his title from him. He spent long hours in the hut with the other members of the council working out what they should do about the threat of Wolf the warrior. In a perfect world he would do as his father had done and go on a raid and get himself killed but the Gods were not that generous and Abad was certain he was being punished for something. Perhaps the Romans, when they came to collect their taxes, might suggest a solution.
The annoyance in question was out watching the village herd. His mother had insisted that he pull his weight in the village. As much as she loved her last child she did not want him to go off, and die, leaving her a lonely widow and if that meant denting his ambitions then so be it.
Wolf sat easily on his horse with one leg cocked over the saddle. He was as the other boys, a superb rider and he did not need a saddle but he had been told that it made it easier when fighting if one used a saddle and Wolf would be a fighter. His friend, Gerjen, pulled his horse next to Wolf. The slightly older boy looked up to Wolf and tried to emulate him in all things. He wore his hair the same way with a high top knot, his beard was braided the same way and he even had the same dagger as his friend. Wolf had not even noticed; he rarely took an interest in others. He liked Gerjen well enough but he had decided long ago that his friends would be judged on how well they fought in a battle, not the mock ones they used for training but a real one where life and death hung in the balance. Until then they were children. When he killed his first enemy, then he would be a man.
“Wolf, when will we ride to war?”
The others were even more in awe of Wolf than Gerjen and he had been chosen as the spokes person. Wolf looked at his friend with those keen sharp eyes which reminded his friends not of a wolf but an eagle for their pierced and bore into you. “Soon. When the herd is taken into winter quarters we will ride to the next valley and blood our swords.”
“Not all of us have swords like you Wolf.”
Wolf grinned and a chill went through Gerjen. “We will have them when we have killed our enemies.” He leaned forward, animated now by the ideas which raced inside his head. “There are two of us with swords but we all have bows. We ambush their warriors and take their weapons and their horses.”
It was known that the Marcomanni had bigger hoses than they did and Wolf wanted a powerful horse. There was a risk, his father had discovered that, but Wolf had had years to plan his first raid and ask those who had survived what to do. He had ridden, alone, into the land of the enemy to spy out the land and he knew their trails and their ways. He had told others he was hunting and he always returned with meat but the reality was that he was hunting men. He had found a steep sided valley with good cover for he and the other ten boys and he knew that an ambush would bring the results he desired.
“What should I tell them then?”
“Five nights from now we leave. They are not to tell anyone.” His voice became chillingly threatening. “If anyone discovers what we are about then the one with the loose tongue will have me to answer to.”
Gerjen was in no doubt that Wolf would carry out his threat. He wished that he could be as tough and ruthless as his friend then he too would become a great warrior.
The twelve of them were checked by Wolf as they gathered in the hills above the village. He tutted at the dull edge on one dagger. He snorted contemptuously at the paucity of arrows from another but eventually he led them off to the north at a trot. Their ponies were surefooted and each one was dark. As they rode through the tree line they became almost invisible. They had two days at least for they had said they were hunting. Wolf had told them that they were not lying for they were hunting, men. They would not be missed for the herds would be checked ready for the taxation inspection. The council of elders had learned long ago that lying to the Roman tax collector merely raised your taxes. They would not make that mistake a second time. Cooperation did bring benefits. Abad had been promised much by the collector on his last visit and he hoped soon to have a stone home like those he had seen when they had visited the city. The boys were aiming to catch some travellers unawares the following morning and Wolf hoped that they would be warriors. He was determined to be a man. Had his father been alive then he would already have bloodied his sword. With no man to stand for him, he would have to stand for himself.
They rode through the night and Wolf drove them relentlessly. His faithful lieutenant Gerjen brought up the rear; goading those who lagged behind. As the first glimmer of light peered over the horizon, Wolf halted his erstwhile war band. “We are close now to the trail which crosses the Marcomanni land. We must be ruthless when we strike. This is not a game. If we are to become great warriors we need to become killers of men. If you fear to kill a man, then think of him as a beast; for in the end that is what we all are.” In the half light they could see the grin on his face and sensed his excitement which was infectious. Now that they were so close they all believed that this would be easy. “There is a trail a little way ahead. Gerjen will take half on one side and I will take half on the other. When the men pass wait until I have loosed my arrow and then take each man that you can see.”
Darvas asked, “How do you know that they will come this way?”
“It is the main trail between their villages.” He pointed away in the distance. “I have seen where they camp and then they ride quickly to cover the last ten miles to the village of the chief. The only thing I do not know is how many there will be. Check your arms before we leave this place.”
They were all dressed in leggings with a leather shirt to give some protection. Wolf had a helmet, an old one left by his father when he had gone raiding. It was not the best protection but it was better than nothing. On his belt he had a curved dagger and the long sword, this time his grandfather’s. He had left his spear behind for the bows would be a better weapon for an ambush. The others were dressed in a similar fashion but most, as yet, had no sword.
Dawn had finally broken when they arrayed themselves in two lines in the woods above the trail. The place Wolf had chosen was the perfect site for an ambush as the trail itself was below their hiding place. If the warriors tried to attack them then they would have to do it uphill. As they waited he also realised that, inadvertently, he had minimised the chances of his band shooting each other in crossfire.
It was when his own horse whinnied that he cursed himself. He should have placed a scout to warn them of the approach of their prey. It was too late to do anything about it and they would have to attack blind. It was a band of men with horses. He was so excite that he could not see the number as the large warrior at the front obscured his view. Wolf caught the glimpse of a sword which meant that they were probably, warriors. His notched an arrow as did the others. The Marcomanni deigned to wear helmets and they had cloaks about them. Wolf had seen some of them with armour and he did not know yet, what he faced. The first rider was thirty paces from him and he loosed his arrow. It flew straights and true and hit him between his shoulder blade and neck. He heard the whizz of arrows as the rest of his boys loosed their arrows. He cursed when he saw at least one horse fall. He loosed another at the warrior who tried to escape the dying beast and he struck him on the arm. He drew his own sword and roaring a war cry launched himself down the slope towards the trail. He glanced around and saw that Darvas and Panyvadi had joined him. There were still six Marcomanni warriors and four of them were unhurt. He hurled his horse, riding with his knees, at the one at the fore. He was a big, bearded warrior with many bracelets showing that he had been in battles before and won. He hurled his spear at Wolf but the youth easily evade it and, before the warrior could draw his own sword, Wolf’s had bitten deep in the man’s stomach. Roaring in agony he fell backwards off his horse, tumbling to the ground and taking Wolf’s sword with him. Undaunted the young warrior pulled out his dagger looking for another enemy to kill.