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Authors: Lindsey Davis

The Iron Hand of Mars

BOOK: The Iron Hand of Mars
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To Rosalie,
in memory of two Roman legionaries
on the 29A

 

ROME; ROMAN GERMANY; GERMANIA LIBERA

S
EPTEMBER
–N
OVEMBER
AD 71

Title Page

Dedication

Epigraph

Principal Characters

Map

Part One:
Refusing to go

Part Two:
Getting there

Part Three:
Legio XIV Gemina Martia Victrix

Part Four:
A trip down the Rhenus

Part Five:
Swamps and forests

Part Six:
Going home (perhaps)

Also Available by Lindsey Davis

Copyright

 

“The story upon which I embark is one full of incident, marked by bitter fighting, rent by treason, and even in peace sinister…”

Tacitus,
The Histories

 

PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS

(NOT ALL OF WHOM ARE FREE TO APPEAR)

The Emperor Vespasian       

who needs an agent he can trust, e.g.:

M. Didius Falco

an informer in need of work, who wants:

Helena Justina

who wants the impossible, but not:

Titus Caesar

who wants Falco off the scene

Plus in Rome, or thereabouts:

A widow in Veii

a mere distraction (honestly!)

Canidius

an unwashed clerk of censored archives

Balbillus

a one-legged free-speaking ex-legionary

Xanthus

a sharp barber who wants to see the world

Silvia

wife to Petronius (who keeps out of the way)

Decimus

Helena's father, an apologetic man, also parent to:

Camillus Aelianus

(in Spain); a high-minded youth

And in History:

P. Quinctilius Varus

a disastrous general (long dead)

Petilius Cerialis

a renowned general (not as disastrous as Varus)

Claudia Sacrata

a woman of intrigue (preferably with generals)

Munius Lupercus

a missing officer (probably dead)

Julius Civilis

a rebel chief in need of a haircut

Veleda

a priestess who lives alone with her thoughts and:

Some relatives of hers

who live there too

In Gaul:

A Gallic potter

who will soon be a long way from Lugdunum

Two German potters

who may never go home

In Germany:

Dubnus

a pedlar who sells more than he should

Julius

a potter who knows a few things

Mordanticus Regina

barmaid at the Medusa; an angry girl

Augustinilla

Falco's niece, laid low by love and the toothache

Arminia

her little flaxen friend

Belonging to the famous XIV Legion:

Florius Gracilis

their legate; another missing officer

Maenia Priscilla

his wife, who is not missing him

Julia Fortunata

his mistress, who says she is

Rusticus

his slave, who is just missing

The Primipilus

the XIV's sneering chief centurion

The Cornicularius

their snooty commissariat clerk

A. Macrinus

their arrogant senior tribune

S. Juvenalis

their truculent camp prefect

In the much-less famous I Legion:

Q. Camillus Justinus

Helena's other brother; an
ingénu
tribune

Helveticus

a centurion with a problem, which includes:

Dama

his servant, who yearns for Moesia,

Twenty rather

including:

dim recruits

 

Lentullus

the one who can't do
anything

Also featuring:

The aurochs

a legendary beast famous for ferociousness, and:

Tigris

a dog who finds an interesting bone

 

PART ONE

R
EFUSING TO GO

Rome, September, AD 71

“My official career owed its beginning to Vespasian, its progress to Titus … I have no wish to deny this.”

Tacitus,
The Histories

 

I

“One thing is definite,” I told Helena Justina; “I am
not
going to Germany!”

Immediately I could see her planning what to pack for the trip.

*   *   *

We were in bed at my apartment, high up on the Aventine. A real sixth-floor bughole—only most bugs grew tired of walking upstairs before they ever got this far. I passed them sometimes, flaked out on halfway landings, with droopy antennae and tired little feet …

It was a place you could only laugh about, or the squalor would break your heart. Even the bed was rocky. And that was
after
I had pieced in a new leg and tightened the mattress webs.

I was trying out a new way of making love to Helena, which I had devised in the interests of not letting our relationship go stale. I had known her a year, let her seduce me after six months of thinking about it, and had finally managed to persuade her to live with me about two weeks ago. According to my previous experience of women, I must be right on target to be told I drank too much and slept too much, and that her mother needed her urgently back at home.

My athletic efforts at holding her interest had not gone unnoticed. “Didius Falco … wherever did you … learn this trick?”

“Invented it myself…”

Helena was a senator's daughter. Expecting her to put up with my filthy lifestyle for more than a fortnight had to be pushing my luck. Only a fool would view her fling with me as anything more than a bit of local excitement before she married some pot-bellied pullet in patrician stripes who could offer her emerald pendants and a summer villa at Surrentum.

As for me, I worshipped her. But then I was the fool who kept hoping the fling could be made to last.

“You're not enjoying yourself.” As a private informer, my powers of deduction were just about adequate.

“I don't think…” Helena gasped, “this is going to work!”

“Why not?” I could see several reasons. I had cramp in my left calf, a sharp pain under one kidney, and my enthusiasm was flagging like a slave kept indoors on a festival holiday.

“One of us,” suggested Helena, “is bound to laugh.”

“It looked all right as a rough sketch on the back of an old rooftile.”

“Like pickling eggs. The recipe seems easy, but the results are disappointing…”

I replied that we were not in the kitchen, so Helena asked demurely whether I thought it would help if we were. Since my Aventine doss lacked that amenity altogether, I treated her question as rhetorical.

We
both
laughed, if it's of interest.

Then I unwound us, and made love to Helena the way both of us liked best.

*   *   *

“Anyway, Marcus, how do you know the Emperor wants to send you to Germany?”

“Nasty rumour flitting round the Palatine.”

We were still in bed. After my last case had staggered to what passed for its conclusion, I had promised myself a week of domestic relaxation—due to a dearth of new commissions, there were plenty of gaps in the schedule of my working life. In fact, I had no cases at all. I could stay in bed all day if I wanted to. Most days I did.

“So…” Helena was a persistent type. “… You have been making enquiries then?”

“Enough to know some other mug can take on the Emperor's mission.”

Since I did sometimes undertake shady activity for Vespasian, I had been up to the Palace to investigate my chances of earning a corrupt denarius from him. Before presenting myself in the throne room, I had taken the precaution of sniffing round the back corridors first. A wise move: a well-timed exchange with an old crony called Momus had sent me scurrying home.

“Much work on, Momus?” I had asked.

“Chicken-feed. I hear your name is down for the German trip?” was the reply (with a mocking laugh that told me it was something to dodge).

“What trip is that?”

“Just your sort of disaster,” Momus had grinned. “Something about investigating the Fourteenth Gemina…”

That was when I had pulled my cloak round my ears and scarpered—before anyone could inform me officially. I knew enough about the XIV Legion to put quite a lot of effort into avoiding closer contact, and without going into painful history, there was no reason why those swaggering braggarts should welcome a visit from me.

*   *   *

“Has the Emperor actually spoken to you?” insisted my beloved.

“Helena, I won't let him. I'd hate to cause offence by turning down his wonderful offer…”

“Life would be much more straightforward if you just let him ask you, and then simply said no!”

I gave her a smirk that said women (even clever, well-educated daughters of senators) could never understand the subtleties of politics—to which she replied with a two-handed shove that sent me sprawling out of bed. “We need to eat, Marcus. Go and find some work!”

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