Read The Eagle's Vengeance Online

Authors: Anthony Riches

Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Historical, #War & Military

The Eagle's Vengeance

Table of Contents

By the same author in the Empire series

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Maps

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

The Antonine Wall

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 EAGLE’S VENGEANCE

Empire: Volume Six

Anthony Riches

www.hodder.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company

Copyright © 2013 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 9781444711943

Hardback ISBN 9781444711905

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

338 Euston Road

London
NW
1 3
BH

www.hodder.co.uk

For Julie and Julian Dear

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Before we get down to the action it behoves me to admit that without the input and support of a large number of people this book wouldn’t be in your hands or on your reading device. Whilst I am certain to forget someone as I write this grateful acknowledgement of their help, I really am suitably mindful of everyone’s assistance with what is frequently misunderstood as a solitary trade. If I forget to write your name here then I promise to buy you a drink and salute you the very next time we meet!

My wife (for I am strictly forbidden to call her ‘partner’) Helen and children John, Katie and Nick tolerate the inevitable introspection and occasional moods that result from the process of dragging a novel from the depths of my imagination. I’m sure those long drives to wherever we’re going, with me multi-tasking (driving, biting my nails and plotting, and only sometimes in that order), can be more than a little irritating. For that, and many other acts of tolerance, my love and thanks.

My agent Robin continues to dispense good advice and alcoholic lunches, and my editor Carolyn never ceases to impress with her patience and deft guidance, while the team at Hodder are always helpful, supportive and encouraging. Thank you, publishing professionals: you make the job of writing about as easy as it’s ever going to get.

My pre-readers – Viv, David and John – always provide honest and insightful feedback at that ‘nearly done but not quite right’ stage, helping me to see the wood from the trees.

And you, reader, since you keep on reading the stories that I am compelled to write, giving life to their characters (and purpose to their creator), you play as much of a part as anyone else on this page. And, if I may be permitted a small advertisement while I’m at it, there’s still a lot of the empire we haven’t seen yet, and a lot of history for the Tungrians to fight their way through in the next twenty-five years of Rome’s travails. Stay with me, and we’ll witness the fall of a dynasty, a savage empire-spanning civil war and the iron hand of a despotic tyrant from the perspective of the soldiers who shape those bloody events.

Thank you.

Prologue


Silence!
Silence for the king!’

King Naradoc of the Venicones smiled thinly at the ritual command, more usually issued to the noisy crowds of warriors who thronged the tribe’s royal hall when he held audiences with his people. On those days when the tribe’s elite gathered to pay homage to their ruler the hall would be filled with the noise of men competing to be seen and heard, each of them accompanied by half a dozen of the biggest and most fearsome members of his household, every one of them covered in the swirling blue tattoos that were the tribe’s distinguishing feature, their weapons surrendered at the massive arched doorway under the watchful eyes of the king’s guard. Each clan’s heavily tattooed champions would rub shoulders as they waited for the king’s entrance, friendships and enmities playing out in jocular exchanges that all parties knew would end in swift punishment if they were to escalate beyond mere words, no matter how barbed they might be. With the hammering of an iron-shod staff, wielded against the thick wooden floorboards by Naradoc’s shaven-headed and hard-faced uncle Brem in his appointed role as the enforcer of the royal will, the gathered clan heads would swiftly fall silent. Turning as one man they would bow towards the throne into which Naradoc would already have settled, and he would gesture regally to them, displaying his acceptance of their obeisance.

But not today. While the hall was as thickly wreathed with smoke from the fires that warmed its air as ever, the wide open space before the king’s throne was all but empty. It had been cleared for this audience at Brem’s suggestion, the older man’s expression inscrutable as he had delivered his opinion on the matter of exactly how their unwanted guest should die.

‘It would be better not to shed this man’s blood publicly, my lord King. The Selgovae will not take his murder lightly, whether he be disgraced and banished or not.’

Naradoc had nodded sagely at the wisdom of the proposal, and had thereby consented to have no presence in The Fang’s hall beyond that required to ensure their security, a handful of his guards whose loyalty was beyond question. Behind him he could hear the sounds of four men taking their seats in smaller versions of the throne arrayed in an arc: his uncle, brother, cousin and nephew, the remnants of a royal family grievously reduced by the tribe’s losses in battle with Rome two years before. Glancing round he saw Brem’s hideously disfigured huntsman who now went by the name of Scar, so horribly wounded in the battle that had taken Naradoc’s brother that for a time it had seemed unlikely that his wounds would ever heal. The Romans had left him for dead on the battlefield given the slim chance that he would ever make a saleable slave. The cicatrice that covered half his face, part bone-white and the remainder a gruesome ruddy shade of red, gave him such a fearsome aspect that the king found himself perpetually amazed that he had managed to gather about him a score and more of the tribe’s young women. Over the last year he had honed them into a sisterhood of hunters, their single-minded ferocity in capturing and torturing Romans from the wall forts reducing most warriors who fought alongside them to an uneasy combination of unrequited lust – for the Vixens were renowned for their chastity and, some men muttered, their fondness for each other – and unease at being around women who took pleasure in hacking off their captives’ sexual organs and stitching the dried remnants to their belts. When the scrapings and rustlings had died away to silence, the king waited a moment longer before tossing a question over his shoulder, consciously copying the style his brother Drust had been wont to employ during the years that had preceded his ill-fated decision to go to war alongside the Selgovae people.

‘Who’s first, Chamberlain?’

The decision to go to war, Naradoc mused, that had resulted in Drust’s death in battle, a warrior’s death celebrated in song, a glorious death with a dozen Roman soldiers dead around him, but death nonetheless, leaving his brother to mount the throne to which Drust had been so well suited, and in which he still felt so ill at ease. Brem replied to the question, and to Naradoc’s ear his uncle’s voice was gruff, his disapproval of their visitor’s presence apparent in both tone and inflection.

‘A visitor from beyond our tribal lands, my lord King, a Selgovae nobleman who has come to seek our assistance. Come forward, Calgus!’

They waited in silence while the gaunt figure came shuffling forward across the empty hall, flanked either side by hard-bitten tribesmen who were the only remaining men loyal to the former Selgovae king. The tendons in his ankles had been cut by a vengeful Roman officer two years previously, if the stories were to be believed, wounds which had long since healed, but which left him unable to walk any faster than a painfully slow flat-footed shuffle. A half-dozen of the household guard walked behind them with hands on the hilts of their swords, veterans of the war with Rome who, Brem had told him more than once, would sell their lives in his defence in an instant. When Calgus reached the edge of the royal dais he bowed as deeply as he could, holding on to his companions for support. His voice was thinner than the last time he had spoken in the great hall, but Naradoc could sense the steel in its reedy tones, and he suppressed an involuntary shiver at the deceit and guile of which the former Selgovae king had once been capable.

‘King Naradoc, I thank you for receiving me in your royal hall. I come to you as king of the Selgovae, seeking your help as one ruler to another. In return I offer—’


King
of the Selgovae, you say?’ Naradoc poured scorn into the question, shaking his head to provide his own answer. ‘A half-crippled beggar and his last two retainers, more like. A once mighty ruler and the man who shook the Roman army’s grip on this land you may be, but Rome still rules south of their northernmost wall and here you are, reduced to the status of supplicant to the Venicone people.’

Having silenced the Selgovae with his interjection, the Venicone king leaned back against the carved wooden backrest of his throne with a mischievous smile, turning in his chair to share his amusement with his family.

‘You still have balls, I’ll give you that, Calgus,
former
king of the Selgovae. I hear that your younger brother now rules your tribe, and that he has sued for peace with the Romans in order to relieve your people of the vicious abuse dealt out to them by the legions since they lost their ill-fated war against the empire. I hear you are forbidden to return to your former kingdom on pain of death, for the crime of starting a war you could never hope to win on the Romans’ own ground. And yet you come here …’ He shook his head in amazement at the Selgovae’s sheer nerve. ‘
Here
, to the heart of the Venicone tribe’s power, heedless of the defeat to which you led my brother Drust with your enticements, and your mistaken confidence in your own ability to defeat Rome’s legions in battle. That, I am forced to admit, shows great bravery on your part.’

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