To Love Again - Bertrice Small



A.D. 44–406

The Celtic warrior, a Catuvellauni by tribe, lay facedown in the mud upon the smoking earth. His naked body, battered and broken, was painted a vibrant shade of blue. Around him a thousand more of his kind lay dead or dying while Roman legionaries moved methodically over the battlefield administering the coup de grace to those unfortunate enough to still be clinging to life. He could hear the calls of the carrion birds gathering, and a shudder ran through him.

Nearby, a party of Roman officers stood watching. Turning his head slightly, he viewed them through slitted eyelids, recognizing to his amazement the emperor himself. The warrior moved his hand stealthily toward his javelin. Slowly, his fingers closed about its shaft, feeling the comfortable familiarity of the smooth ashwood. He was barely breathing, but it did not matter. Breathing hurt too much now.

With superhuman effort, he pulled himself stiffly to his feet. Then howling like a demon, he hurled his weapon directly at the Roman emperor, exhausting every bit of his remaining strength. To the warrior’s deep disappointment, a tall, young tribune standing in the group reacted far more swiftly than he would have thought possible and flung himself in front of the emperor, taking the full brunt of the javelin in his kneecap.

The Catuvellauni warrior had no time to admire the young man’s bravery. He was already dead; his head severed from his neck by a second tribune who had leapt forward in his own defense of the emperor. The head, its long hair bloody and matted, rolled across the ground, stopping at the feet of the emperor.

Claudius looked down and sighed deeply. He recognized the head as belonging to one of the personal bodyguards of the Catuvellauni war chief. He had noticed the boy when the Catuvellauni had come to talk peace, even as they were treacherously massing their forces in an attempt to drive the Romans from Britain. The young man had a smallish, but very distinct birthmark upon his left cheekbone. Claudius, physically impaired himself, was quick to notice others with impairments of any kind. He shook his head sadly. He did not like war. So many young lives like this one wasted. Young men fought wars, but it was the old men like himself who planned those wars.

He turned away from the severed head, giving his attention now to the tribune who had shielded him from certain death. “How is he?” the emperor asked the surgeon who was kneeling by the tribune’s side, staunching the copious flow of blood.

“He’ll live,” came the dour reply, “but there will be no more soldiering for this one, Caesar. The javelin, by the grace of the gods, missed the artery to his heart. It has chipped the knee bone, and damaged the tendons. The boy will walk with a marked limp the rest of his days.”

Claudius nodded, and then he asked the injured young man, “What is your name, tribune?”

“Flavius Drusus, Caesar.”

“Are we related, then?” the emperor wondered aloud, for he was Claudius Drusus Nero.

“Distantly, Caesar.”

“Who is your father?”

“Titus Drusus, Caesar, and my brother is also Titus.”

“Yes,” the emperor said thoughtfully. “Your father is in the senate. He is a just man, as I recall.”

“He is, Caesar.”

“You are the Tribunus Laticlavius of the Fourteenth,” the emperor said, noting the young man’s uniform. “You will have to go home now, I fear, Flavius Drusus.”

“Yes, Caesar,” came the dutiful answer, but Claudius heard more than just disappointment in the young man’s voice.

“You do not want to go home?” he asked. “Is there no young sweetheart or wife eagerly awaiting your return, then? How long have you been with the Fourteenth, Flavius Drusus?”

“Almost three years, Caesar. I had hoped to make a career in the army. I am the youngest son of Titus Drusus. There are three older than I am. My eldest brother will follow in our father’s footsteps, of course; and Gaius and Lucius are both magistrates. Another magistrate from the Drusus family, and we could easily be accused of a monopoly,” Flavius Drusus finished with a small smile. Then he winced, and grew pale as the javelin was drawn from his leg.

Claudius almost groaned in sympathy with the young man’s obvious pain. Although the titular second-in-command of his legion, a Tribunus Laticlavius was really an honorary post. There were six tribunes in each legion, and five of them were usually battle-hardened veterans. The Tribunus Laticlavius was always a youngster in his teens from a noble family, sent to spend two