Hey all. Those of you who've been around for a while (and those who've bothered to read the entire chronicles archives) may recall reading a story written and posted by me two years ago entitled 'The Fall of the Nervii.' It was an eighteen thousand word piece that I'd written for my final school year 4 Unit English major project, and as such I decided to post it here for all to marvel at.
At any rate, for the past year or so I've been toying with the idea of rewriting the story, possibly in preparation for publishing. I've written a first redraft of the prologue, entitled Stormclouds, which I've decided to share with you all. For the interested, the original version of this segment is still viewable (url="http://"http://www.ambrosiasw.com/webboard/Forum49/HTML/000006.html")here(/url).
Forks of light stabbed downwards, illuminating the sky in eerie relief before fading away into darkness, echoing booms of thunder crashing through the air. Rain sheeted down, freezing cold water washing over the ground, chilling the feet of the man standing guard. Rivulets ran down his shoulders, chilling the metal of his arm guards and breastplate, before running down to his hands and sliding along the shaft of his spear, soaking into the earth.
At least, he thought to himself, Atrius is as miserable as I am. He glanced across at Atrius, standing ramrod straight in the night, then chuckled briefly and turned back to his post.
Light flared in a nearby tent, and the flap rustled, lifted, and fell back into the darkness. The soldier watched, silently, as a man made his way through the rain towards him. As the man made as if to enter the tent, he held his spear in front of the entrance, noting that Atrius has also blocked the entry with his weapon.
Who comes here, this night? the soldier asked brusquely. The man in front of him appeared to have officers epaulets upon his shoulders, but the general had expressed his wish to not be disturbed.
It is I, Marcus Brutus, the man replied, lifting the hood of his oiled cloak and holding up his lantern to reveal his face. I wish to speak with Caesar.
The legionnaire moved his spear aside, and nodded at Atrius, who also shifted his spear. Enter, sir. The general is expecting you.
Brutus nodded. What is your name, soldier?
Very well, Gracus. I shall commend you to the general for your vigilance. Brutus reached forward, and lifted up the tent flap, then entered, leaving it to fall behind him. Gracus raised a quizzical eyebrow at Atrius, who shrugged in return. Gracus grinned, then returned to staring at the night.
Bloody officers, he thought. Never can pick em.
Brutus stepped forward, then bowed from the waist, fist clenched against his chest in salute.
My general, he said, I have come as you commanded.
At ease, my friend, he heard the quiet voice, and he lifted his eyes to look upon one of the greatest generals in the history of Rome. He was sitting at a small folding desk covered with papers, candles burning in pillared stands. Dark wings of hair with hints of grey framed a weathered face, with dark eyes that missed nothing.
I expect you are wondering why you were summoned here, tonight, in such foul weather. Caesar stated, pushing back his chair, and stretching slowly, before moving across to an ornate stand, upon which several goblets stood, as well as a decanter of wine. He poured two goblets out carefully, and then carried one across to Brutus.
I had wondered, general, Brutus replied, taking the goblet and sniffing the bouquet. A rich, pleasant aroma wafted through his nostrils, and smiling, he took a mouthful of the wine, savouring it before swallowing. Excellent wine, if I may be so bold, sir.
Caesar looked amused. Of course, Brutus. Just because we are on the march does not require us to sink to a level of total barbarism. And please, dispense with the formality. Weve known each other for far too long to stand upon ceremony. He motioned to a chair in front of his desk, then returned to his own seat, and sampled the wine, watching Brutus over the rim of the goblet.
Brutus took his seat in front of Caesars desk, and drank more wine, watching the general silently. Eventually Caesar laughed, then placed his goblet on the table, and started shuffling through the papers on his desk.
Enough games then, my friend. As you are well aware, the tribes in the north of Gaul have been rather troublesome of late. They have recently uprisen against our Roman authority, and have overrun several of the border forts along their region.
Brutus nodded. Such was common knowledge in the army; more so was why they were marching towards Gaul, and the Belgae region to the north. They were a force intended for chastisement.
At any rate, I have received urgent pleas from the northern governors to bring a force of legionnaires through the Alps and reassimilate the savages under their proper masters. There is however, a small problem. I have received no word whatsoever from the governors since midsummer, and scouts sent into the passes have not returned.
But surely, Caesar . You are not suggesting that a full rebellion has taken place? That we are losing control of the province? That would be-
Disastrous. Yes. Caesar cut him off, calmly. And that is, of course, the reason for the number of troops assembled here. Ten legions should be more than sufficient to quell the rebelling tribes. There has been insufficient time for them to rally all of Gaul to their cause, it is probable that only the north is in revolt, and that they have somehow managed to seize the passes. It is my intention to take the passes back, and chase the tribesmen back to Belgae where they belong.
And after that, Caesar? Shall we forgive, forget, and garrison their tribal lands with a legion or two to keep them docile? Brutus asked, sipping the last of his wine.
Caesar smiled grimly. No, my friend. Once they are in Belgae, we shall surround them and then, we shall destroy them.
Brutus met his superiors eyes, and nodded once. Rebellion was treason against Rome, and treason bought a man either death in battle against the legions, or death hanging from a cross where the world could see the death reserved for traitors.
And now, Brutus, Caesar said, I require your help in formulating battle strategies against the tribes. The most troublesome are likely to be the southern Belgae. I believe that they call themselves- and he glanced at a dispatch, yes, they call themselves the Nervii. Once they are crushed, the rest of Belgae will fall like rotted fruit.
Brutus rose, and refilled his goblet, then turned back to Caesar. The generals eyes were gleaming in the tent, with anger or excitement, Brutus was unsure. The rewards will, of course, be great, my general? he asked, easing back into his seat with a raised eyebrow.
I do what I do for Rome, Brutus, Caesar replied easily. Then he smiled. But if she sees fit to bestow bounty upon me for loyal service, I would hardly be a loyal soldier if I refused to accept my pay, now would I?
Of course, Caesar, Brutus smiled, and reached for a map of the Alpine passes. Shall we begin?
The torrents of rain spilt themselves upon the roof of a small log cabin, on a hillside where the mountains gradually faded into the plains. Stands of oak trees around the cabin sheltered it from the worst of the downpour, but the water still formed new rivers around the house, flowing down the hill.
Puffs of smoke rose from a short chimney, the top covered against the rain with the sides open to allow the smoke to escape, sparks occasionally rising from inside the chimney to be snuffed out in an instant by the driving rain.
Inside, a man sat in front of the fire, resting his chin upon his hands, gazing into the dancing flames. The floating sparks reflected in his clear blue eyes, behind which shadows seemed to gather in the light of the fire.
The man blinked, then looked down to a small table next to his chair, upon which a folded parchment sat where it had been dropped from his fingers. Sighing, he reached down and retrieved it, then read it once again:
_My old friend,
The long feared retribution is coming at last. Spies have reported that the legions are moving towards the Alpine passes, and intend to cross into southern Gaul, before sweeping north to destroy the Belgae. They cannot let our rebellion go unpunished; the region is too volatile for any action of ours to be left alone for long.
From the reports, it seems that at least eight legions are marching towards the passes, some scouts count as many as ten. Far worse for us is that the first general himself is in command. Caesar is returning to Gaul.
We have begun to muster our forces, but if the passes cannot be held long enough for us to assemble, the legions will tear us apart. We are no match for their strength, we can only hope to win through overwhelming numbers. Morale is even now lower than ever, and it will continue to grow worse.
Please, my friend. The Nervii need you, you are a living legend to our people. Your presence would inspire the troops, and give them the courage they need to fight the legions. I know your oath, and am sorry to have to ask you to violate it once more, but you are our only hope.
I can no longer lead our people, old friend. I am growing older and weaker now, and the chieftains are beginning to look elsewhere for guidance. I need someone strong to hold them together, someone who they will all trust. I need you.
Please hurry. There is not much time.
Chief of the Nervii
Warlord of the Southern Belgae_
The man sighed again, and folded up the letter once more. He stared moodily into the flames, seeing in them visions of blood, of death. Raising his eyes, he looked above the fireplace to the twin blades crossed there, gleaming with silver light in the illumination of the fireplace.
No, he whispered, then stood, and resolutely walked out of the room, into a small kitchen area. He poured a mug of water from a pottery jug, and drank slowly, listening to the thunder and the rain.
Finishing his drink, he put the mug back onto the bench, and walked back into the warmth of the fire lit sitting room. He hesitated, then picked up the letter and made as if to throw it into the flames.
Not so fast, soul brother, a voice whispered in his mind. He paused, then looked at the twin swords again, his brow drawing down into a frown. He shook his head, and held the letter out to the flames again.
No! the voice cried. The man pulled back, and glared up at the crossed blades, almost as if he believed they were alive.
Ill not walk that path again, do you hear me? he growled. I have given my world, I will not kill again.
Then all of your people will die, and you will be to blame. The voice hissed.
He froze, staring at the swords. It is not my responsibility, not my task. I am not the man I used to be . I am different now.
It is still within you, soul brother. You have just to let yourself go again, the voice whispered, seductively.
And if I dont? If I do not give in to your lust for blood and battle again? the man growled, his eyes staring murderously at the blades.
Then the Nervii will die, now, and for eternity, and you will have to live with the knowledge that you could have prevented it, if you had but tried. The voice stated, with finality.
The mans shoulders slumped, and he unclenched his fists, the letter falling to the floor. He lifted a shaking hand, and reached out, caressing the hilt of one of the blades.
Yes, soul brother. Yes. The voice purred.
Pulling it free of the wall, the man raised the blade in front of him, his eyes taking in the long, slightly curved blade, carved with runes from the ancient tongues of the Norse gods, the hilt engraved with the druidic symbols of power from Prydein. Almost hypnotically, the carvings called to him, and he tilted the blade backwards and forwards, reflecting the firelight.
Reaching up without looking, he took the other hilt in his hand and lifted it next to its mirrored twin, the symbols and carvings inverted back, along the blade and hilt. With a sudden movement, the man sprang into the centre of the room, lashing out with the blades at invisible enemies, ducking, twisting, turning and slicing the air into ribbons as he moved with consummate skill and speed.
Panting, he stopped, and looked down again at the twin swords in his hands.
See, soul brother? You are complete once more, the voice murmured in his mind.
Yes, he whispered back. I feel alive again.
And so will you go, soul brother? Will we aid your people once more, or shall we be hung back above the fire whilst you slip slowly but surely into dreams of death?
I gave my word, the man said, his eyes hardening. I swore not to kill.
You also swore to protect your people. You must do as you have pledged.
The man looked into the fire once more, as if hoping a solution would come from the dancing flames.
Come, soul brother, the voice whispered. Let us fight once more. One last dance with death before life is over.
He made his decision. Walking over to the wall, he pulled down a pair of scabbards, and sheathed the two blades, then fastened them to a long baldric. He leant the baldric against the wall, then walked into the kitchen, gathering up some food and filling a waterskin. Grabbing a pack hanging near the back door, he placed the food and water inside, and through in some clothes from his bedroom, then returned to the front sitting room.
He stood still for a minute, then nodded to himself, picked up the baldric and swung it over both of his shoulders, cinching it around his waist. The twin hilts rose above his shoulders, and he absently drew each fractionally, making sure that they were clear in their scabbards. Picking up his pack, he drew it on carefully, making sure the baldric remained steady, then swung an oiled cloak over his shoulders.
He glanced at the fire, then muttering to himself, fetched the jug of water from the kitchen and doused the flames with it, creating a long hiss of smoke that funnelled up the chimney.
Turning away from the house now, he reached for the latch, and lifted it, easing the door back with a loud creak. Flashes of lightening still lit up the night, and the cascading rainwater still poured down with violent intensity. Pulling the hood of his cloak up, he spared one last glace for the home he was leaving, then stepped outside, swinging the door shut behind him, then turned and began to make his way down the hill to the west, through the storm.
And Death walked with him, into the darkness.
Š2001-2003 Ben Thomas, all rights reserved.
(This message has been edited by Tarnćlion Andiyarus (edited 11-03-2003).)