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Authors: Anthony Riches

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The Wolf's Gold

BOOK: The Wolf's Gold
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Table of Contents

By the same author in the EMPIRE series

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Historical Note

The Roman Army in 182
AD

By the same author in the EMPIRE series

Wounds of Honour

Arrows of Fury

Fortress of Spears

The Leopard Sword

About the Author

Anthony Riches holds a degree in Military Studies from Manchester University. He began writing the story that would become the first novel in the Empire series,
Wounds of Honour
, after visiting Housesteads Roman fort in 1996. He lives in Hertfordshire with wife and three children.

Find out more about his books at
www.anthonyriches.com
.

THE WOLF’S GOLD

Anthony Riches

www.hodder.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company

Copyright © 2012 Anthony Riches

The right of Anthony Riches to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

Ebook ISBN 978 1 444 71189 9

Hardback ISBN 978 1 444 71186 8

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

www.hodder.co.uk

For Carolyn

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

When I started musing on the idea of setting this book in Dacia, to take advantage of the appearance early in Commodus’s reign of two of the three men who would contest for the throne after his murder, my eye was caught by one magic word. Gold. In seeking to understand mining’s place in the imperial Roman economy, I purchased the excellent
Imperial Mines and Quarries in the Roman World
by Alfred Michael Hirt, which swiftly and efficiently outlined to me both the nature of imperial control over this vital prop of the empire’s finances and the place that the mining colony of Alburnus Maior played in that grand scheme. I heartily recommend it to the reader with a thirst for historical detail, although I must warn you that it is a finely detailed academic publication and not a particularly light read. As before, my perception of the early 180s as a time period was strengthened by Anthony R. Birley’s seminal
Septimius Severus: The African Emperor
. On the nature, weapons, tactics and organisation of the Sarmatians I was superbly well informed by Brzezinski and Mielczarek’s
The Sarmatians: 600
BC

AD
450
in the ever invaluable Osprey Men at Arms series, another strongly recommended read which provides a powerful insight to this warrior people who gave Rome such a run for its money and ended up as an integral part of the empire. As for Dacia itself, I recommend
Dacia: Land of Transylvania, Cornerstone of Ancient Eastern Europe
by Ion Grumeza and
Roman Dacia
by Miller, Vandome and McBrewster, although the latter seems to be a handy collection of all the relevant articles to be found in Wikipedia – no bad thing, but worthy, like that source, of cautious treatment. As ever, all errors are down to me and me alone.

Domestically my support has been as steadfast (and uncompromising) as ever. Indeed the credit for this book’s title must go to my wife Helen, whom I was boring half to death with last summer’s beach musings, post completion of the
The Leopard Sword
(a completion effected whilst on holiday, not my finest domestic hour). ‘It’s a story about gold,’ I told her, ‘set in Dacia which actually means “the land of the wolf” . . .’ My lovely wife simply looked at me over her sunglasses with that expression all men come to know only too well, said, ‘Well, then, obviously it’s
The Wolf’s Gold
, isn’t it?’, then turned back to her crossword. Little did she know just how much that simple statement was to help me. My writing efforts have been greatly assisted by the acquisition of an internet-free bolthole on a local farm (and thus free from the constant distractions of share prices, firearms and sports cars), and my gratitude to Gini and Jonathan Trower for having the foresight to go looking for a tenant just as I was looking for a hiding place from distraction is boundless. And one day soon the temperature in The Old Hen House will get back over zero, I keep assuring myself. It would indeed be the splendidly stark writer’s garret of legend if not for the twin luxuries of my invaluable coffee machine and the iPod dock on which Handel tinkles elegantly and Motörhead hammers thunderously (and all shades of the musical spectrum in between) depending on my mood and muse requirements.

Graham Lockhart continues to be the business partner who tolerates my overactive imagination and its demands, while Robin Wade and Carolyn Caughey, agent and editor respectively, continue to be the outwardly calm publishing professionals who wonder just what the hell their author is playing at in having a day job when he’s contracted to deliver two books a year. Thanks to all of you for tolerating my megalomania.

Lastly, thank you to you, the reader, for picking up this book. The writer’s vision is nothing without a mind for it to occupy for a short time and, for the loan of your grey matter for long enough to make Marcus and his supporting cast live somewhere other than my own feverish imagination, I am grateful.

Thank you.

    

Prologue

Dacia, March, AD 183

A dog barked from the other end of the village, and in a heartbeat another half-dozen canine voices were raised in protest against whatever it was that had alerted the first animal. Snug in his straw nest beneath the house, warm and dry among livestock that had long since become accustomed to the boy’s nocturnal presence, Mus smiled sleepily at the chorus of barking. Whatever it was that had set off the dogs would also have resulted in a storm of invective from the men of the surrounding houses, if his father’s usual reaction was any indication. He wormed his way a little deeper into the straw, closing his eyes in anticipation of the dogs’ protests at whatever nocturnal creature it was that had awoken them dying away into renewed silence.

With a sudden, piercing shriek that had the boy wide awake and sitting up startled in the straw, one of the dogs was silenced. It was a sound that Mus had heard once before, when their neighbour’s animal had mauled his master’s son and been rewarded with four feet of legion-issue gladius through its back. The dying animal had given out howls of agony in its death throes, struggling against the cold blade’s implacable intrusion, until its owner had been forced to rip the sword loose and behead the writhing dog to silence its heart-rending cries. In the brief moment of shocked silence that followed, Mus knew that he had just heard something horribly similar. But who would take a blade to a guard dog for doing its job?

A renewed chorus of barking broke the silence, joined by a swelling sound of gruff voices as the men of the village spilled out from their homes armed with the swords that they had all retained on their retirement from the legion, despite the relative peace of the times. Mus heard his father’s voice through the wooden boards above his head, reassuring the family that there was nothing to worry about even as the big man’s footsteps thudded towards the door. And then the screaming started. Some of the raised voices were those of men fighting for their lives and losing that fight, the clash of iron overlaid with agonised groans and cries of pain and terror as they were killed and wounded, while others were the higher pitched screams of outrage from their women, howls of imprecation and hatred at whatever was happening down at the other end of the village.

‘Mus!’

His oldest brother put his head through the hatch to the house’s upper floor, and Mus called back to him.

‘I’m here! What’s—’

‘Father says you’re to stay there, and
not
to move!’

The head withdrew, and the boy heard the sound of heavy footsteps as his father and three older brothers hurried down the steps and ran towards the swelling sound of battle, the retired watch officer’s voice raised to bellow encouragement to his former brothers in arms. Above him he heard the sound of lighter feet as his mother and sisters gathered in his parents’ bed, the girls seeking comfort from the night’s sudden terror. While he was tempted to run up the ladder and join them, he knew that his father would punish him when he returned to find his order had been disobeyed, and so stayed where he was, raising his head to stare through the narrow opening in the house’s wall which served to admit daylight during the day. The view through the slit gave him little more understanding of the events that were unfolding in the village’s lower portion than the evidence of his ears, but as he stared out into the dark village he realised what was behind the bobbing flames of torches advancing up the hill towards him.

Driving the remaining men of the village before them, a line of heavily armoured warriors was forcing the retired soldiers’ last desperate defence back towards the settlement’s higher end. The outnumbered defenders were bellowing their defiance even as they fought and died on the attackers’ swords, their distantly remembered sword drills no match for younger men protected by armour and shields. Behind the line of shields, fires were taking hold of the houses already captured, and the howls of female hatred and anguish had become helpless screams of outrage.

As Mus watched in horror, he saw a powerfully built warrior stride out of the attack’s line and single-handedly take a long sword to his brothers as the men behind him watched, expertly parrying a cut at his head before swinging the weapon to open the youngest boy’s throat with the weapon’s point. Sidestepping another furious hack from the oldest of the three, he smashed his shield into the boy’s face, then lunged on one muscular thigh to stab his sword through his reeling defences and deep into his chest. As the last of Mus’s brothers screamed and charged at him from one side, his spear stabbing out in a desperate attack, the big man simply sprang back from the lunge and allowed the weapon’s point to flash uselessly past him, grabbing the shaft and jerking the child off balance. Laughing in the boy’s face, he leaned in to deliver a crunching headbutt with his iron helmet, then turned away, leaving the men behind him to finish the semi-conscious child.The boys’ father stormed out of the fray with his sword painted black, screaming bloody murder for revenge on his sons’ killer.

BOOK: The Wolf's Gold
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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