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Authors: Terry Deary

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BOOK: The Goose Guards
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The head priest Marius didn’t shout at me in class that day. He taught us the right way to sacrifice a goat.

“It is wrong to kill an animal if it doesn’t want to be killed,” he told us. “What you must do is hold out some food. The animal will stretch out its neck to take it. That is a sign that it wants to have its throat cut. Then you cut it.”

Fabia was silent.

“Will it work with the geese, sir?” I asked eagerly, and I heard Fabia let out a small sob.

“Probably,” Marius sighed. “But I am not sure that we should be sacrificing the holy geese…”

we shouldn’t,” Fabia sniffled. “They’re Rome’s protectors.”

“But they didn’t save Rome, did they?” I jeered. I turned back to Marius. “Can I be there when you kill them?”

The priest nodded. “Unless we receive a sign from the gods,” he said, and I sighed with happiness.

You must be thinking I was cruel and spiteful. You are right. I wanted to hurt Fabia, so I wasn’t thinking about the geese. Boys can be stupid and blind.

Marius said the geese needed a miracle if they were going to live. And I suppose what happened that night was a miracle…

While I had been tormenting the geese, and Fabia, that morning, the Gaul guards at the foot of the cliffs had seen the broken branches and crushed plants on the cliff. It was the trail Cominius had left when he climbed down to get help. Now the Gauls knew there was a way up.

King Brennus had seen us beat his men on the path to the Capitol Hill. He knew that the Gauls had no chance of succeeding by climbing a narrow, slippery cliff path.

“We must go in the dark,” the king decided. “There is no moon tonight,” he told his captains. “Twenty of the best warriors can climb the cliff, kill the guards and take the Capitol Hill. If we hold that hill, when the Roman army attacks, they will never drive us out!”


And so they set about their plan.

In the temples, we ate our thin corn porridge and settled down to sleep. It would be our last night of misery. Tomorrow Furius would come with the Roman army. Tomorrow we would feast on goose flesh.

I slept. The priests slept. Our leader Marcus Manlius slept. The guards and even the guard dogs slept.

Everyone was exhausted.

Through the night, the Gauls climbed. In the darkest hour they reached the top of the cliff. They slid out their swords, ready to start slitting sleeping throats. The enemy moved forward.

Then, all at once, the silence was broken by screeching, cackling, blood-chilling screams.

The geese had woken and raged against the strangers. Geese are better at guarding than dogs.

Marcus Manlius woke. He snatched his sword and gathered his guards.

The Gauls panicked. Some staggered backwards over the cliff and fell screaming on to the Tarpeian Rocks below.

The rest were driven back and killed. Cries of men mingled with the gabbling of the geese until the last attacker died and calm returned.

Torches were lit and the priests and the soldiers gathered near the temple of Juno.

“We were saved by the geese,” Marcus Manlius said.

“A sign from the gods–a miracle,” Marius said.

And Fabia’s eyes glittered in the torchlight. “You can’t kill them now,” she said, and looked at me with fierce glee.

“We can’t kill them now,” Marius agreed.

Fabia smiled at me. “
Vae victis
,” she said quietly. “
Vae victis
… woe to the defeated.”

I knew I had been defeated by the gods. And I deserved it.


The characters of Fabia and Brutus are not real. But much of the rest of the story is true … probably.

The Gauls
invade Rome and the Roman army ran away. When the Gauls entered Rome the old senators met them in silence and were slaughtered. Marcus Manlius and his troop held the Capitol Hill and the temples for weeks, slowly starving, until Furius arrived.

The army of Furius arrived in time to see some Romans giving gold to the Gaul invaders so they would leave them in peace. Furius said, “We don’t pay our enemies in gold–we pay them in iron.” He meant the iron of the Roman swords.

The Roman army attacked and drove the Gauls out. King Brennus was cut down and the Romans cried “
vae victis
” over his body.

The tale of the geese is one of the most famous of all Roman legends. But now some people say it may not be true! Marcus Manlius later became one of the most hated men in Rome. He had stolen the Roman people’s taxes and the law said he should be executed. He tried to tell his judges how he had saved Rome … with the help of the geese.

Maybe Marcus Manlius made up that story to save his own life? It didn’t work. He was taken back to the top of Capitol Hill and thrown onto the Tarpeian Rocks.

Vae victis

BOOK: The Goose Guards
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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