Ben Kane: Eagles at War

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Ben Kane Eagles at War
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    Eagles at War
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Eagles at War: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Ben Kane

Eagles at War

‘Quintili Vare, legiones redde!’ ‘Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!’

Suetonius’ record of the Emperor Augustus’ reaction to the news of Varus’ fate


Germania, 12 BC

The boy had been fast asleep, but the insistent shaking of his shoulder woke him at last. He opened gummy eyes to find a figure stooped over him. Profiled by the weak lamplight behind, his father’s face – bearded, keen-eyed, framed by braids of hair – was frightening, and he recoiled.

‘It’s all right, little bear. I’m no ghost.’

‘What is it, Father?’ he mumbled.

‘I have something to show you.’

Behind the powerful figure that was his father stood his mother. Even in the gloom of the longhouse and fuddled with sleep, he could see that she was unhappy. His gaze returned to his father. ‘Is Mother coming?’

‘No. This is something for men.’

‘I’m only seven.’

‘No matter. I want you to see this. Out of bed. Get dressed.’

His father’s word was law. Slipping from under the warmth of his bear pelt, he shoved his still-stockinged feet into his boots, which sat by his low bed. Rummaging for his cloak, which doubled as a second blanket, he threw it around his shoulders. ‘I’m ready.’


As they passed his mother, she reached out. ‘Segimer. This is not right.’

His father whirled. ‘He must see it.’

‘He is too young.’

‘Do not question me, woman! The gods are watching.’

With pursed lips, his mother stood aside.

The boy pretended that he hadn’t heard, or seen. Following his father, he slipped past the forms of sleeping slaves, the glowing fire, the cooking pans and wooden storage chests. The two doorways in the longhouse were opposite each other, in the middle of the building. From the other end, currents of warm air carried the rich odours, and the sounds, of their cattle, pigs and sheep.

His father set the lamp down as he went outside. He looked back. ‘Come.’

The boy moved to the doorway. Stars glittered overhead, but the night was still dark and intimidating. He didn’t like it, but his father was beckoning. Out he came, taking a deep breath of the cool, damp air. It chilled his nostrils, reminding him of the winter that was already nipping at autumn’s heels. ‘Where are we going?’

‘To the forest.’

The boy tensed. He loved being among the trees in the day, when he could play with his friends at hunting, or see who was best at finding deer tracks. He’d never been there at night, however. The forest would be a shadow world now, full of spirits, fierce animals and the gods knew what else. He had been woken many times by wolves howling at the moon. What if they met some?

‘Hurry!’ His father was already a distance along the path that led out of the settlement.

In that moment, being left alone outweighed the boy’s fear of what lay beyond the houses, so he chased after his father. He wanted to ask if they could hold hands, but he knew what the answer to that would be. Pacing by his father’s side was better than nothing. Segimer’s long sword, which marked him out as a wealthy man among their people, was also reassuring, knocking off his thigh as he walked, and reminding the boy that his father was a fearsome warrior, the equal – or better – of any in their Cherusci tribe.

His courage somewhat returned, he asked, ‘What are we going to do?’

Segimer looked down. ‘We shall witness an offering to the gods, such as you have never seen.’

Excitement mixed with the fear in the boy’s belly. He wanted to know more, but his father’s stern tone, and the fact that he was striding ahead at a great speed, made him hold his tongue. Keeping up was what mattered. Mud squelched beneath their boots as they traced their way between a score of longhouses. A dog yapped as they passed one dwelling, setting off a chorus of others. Despite this noise, the village remained still. Everyone was asleep, the boy realised. It was late indeed. He grinned, thrilled. Staying up to watch a wedding feast with his friends, say, was one thing, but to go out in the depths of night, even to the forest, that was a treat. The fact that he was with his father, whom he idolised, made it even better. Segimer wasn’t unkind or cruel, as some of his friends’ fathers were, but he didn’t have much to do with him. He was a distant man. Aloof. Always busy with other nobles; or hunting; or away, fighting the Romans. This time had to be enjoyed, the boy decided.

Their path led into the forest that sprawled to the south of their settlement. There were woods throughout the Cherusci’s lands, Segimer had told the boy, but around the larger villages, much of it had been cut down so that the ground could be used for agriculture. To the west lay the river, a source of water and many types of fish. To the east and west, a patchwork of little fields produced grain, vegetables and grass for their livestock. The trees to the south provided wood for the tribe’s fires, deer and boar for their tables, and sacred places for the priests to consult with the gods.

They had to be going to one of those spots, thought the boy, his unease returning. He was grateful that his father could not see him shiver. He had never dared to enter a grove. Once, he and his friends had ventured far enough to see the entrance to one. The horned cattle skulls nailed to the trees had tested their courage to the limit, and they had skulked back to the village in silence. Tonight, no doubt, they would be going beyond that point. Sweat trickled down his back as they entered the forest. Be brave, he told himself. You can show no fear now, or later. To do so would bring shame on his family, and on his father.

For all of his resolve, he jumped when a figure stepped out from behind a tree. Cloaked, armed with a spear, he raised a hand in salute. ‘Segimer.’


The boy relaxed. Tudrus was one of his father’s most trusted warriors, and a man whom he’d known since he was tiny.

‘You woke the little bear.’

‘Aye.’ Segimer’s hand brushed the boy’s shoulder, a touch for which he was grateful.

‘Are you ready, lad?’ enquired Tudrus.

The boy didn’t know what he was agreeing to, but he nodded.


Segimer peered at the path which ran in from the west to join the one he’d taken from the settlement. ‘Are there any more to arrive?’

‘They’re all here. Warriors of the Bructeri, Chatti, Angrivarii and Tencteri. Even the Marsi have sent noblemen.’

‘It will please Donar that so many have chosen to come,’ Segimer pronounced, eyeing the sky. ‘We’d best hurry. The moon will reach its zenith soon. That’s when the priests said they must die.’

Tudrus rumbled in agreement.

When they must die. Stifling his unease at what the words might mean, the boy concentrated on keeping up with his father.


The boy started forward with fright. He regained control fast, but beside him, he caught Tudrus smiling. His father frowned, indicating with his eyes that he was not to move again.


The boy didn’t stir this time. The bizarre sound had to be from a horn, blown by a priest, but it felt as if it were a demon, or a god, announcing his arrival in the grove. Ten heartbeats skipped past, then twenty, and still no one appeared. The boy’s gaze slid from left to right, over the shadowy space, which was even more intimidating than he had imagined. The path into it had been frightening enough, a winding, muddy affair bounded on both sides by marsh. The entrance, a crude wooden archway decorated with cattle skulls, had been no better. But it was the sacred circle of oak trees, fifty paces across, in which he now waited with his father, Tudrus and a large group of warriors, which had set his guts to churning.

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