Adrian Goldsworthy: Vindolanda

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Adrian Goldsworthy Vindolanda
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Vindolanda: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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AD 98: The bustling army base at Vindolanda lies on the northern frontier of Britannia and the entire Roman world. In just over twenty years time, the Emperor Hadrian will build his famous wall. But for now defences are weak as tribes rebel against Rome, and local druids preach the fiery destruction of the invaders. It falls to Flavius Ferox, Briton and Roman centurion, to keep the peace. But it will take more than just a soldier’s courage to survive life in Roman Britain. This is a hugely authentic historical novel, written by one of Britain’s leading historians. Review ‘Don’t be surprised if you see Vindolanda in the starting line-up for Historical Fiction Book of the Year 2017’ . ‘An authentic, enjoyable read’ . ‘A well-written and authoritative novel that is always enjoyable and entertaining’ . ‘An instant classic of the genre. No historian knows more about the Roman army than Adrian Goldsworthy, and no novelist better recreates the Classical World. Flavius Ferox, Briton turned Roman Centurion is a wonderful, charismatic hero. Action and authenticity combine in a thrilling and engrossing novel’ Harry Sidebottom.

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Ferox knew that he did not believe it and wondered whether it was stubbornness or fear that stopped him from sending a man to raise the alarm. He could not pretend that the fear was not real. His was once a promising career, as the first young nobleman of the Silures to be given Roman citizenship, educated at Lugdunum in Gaul with the aristocratic children of the three provinces, commissioned as centurion in a legion, and decorated for valour by the Emperor Domitian himself. All of that had turned sour long ago and some of it was his fault. He had spent the last seven years here in the north of Britannia, without leave or promotion, serving away from his legion who never gave any suggestion that they wanted his presence. His political importance had long vanished now that the Silures were said to be peaceful, and he was posted to Syracuse because he did not matter and neither did the duties he carried out – at least not to any senior man in the province, let alone anyone at Rome. Ferox was regionarius of a district of little importance and if he wanted to rot there or drink himself into an early grave then no one much minded. Neither were they much inclined to trust his judgement, for his stubborn pursuit of the truth had made him few friends and plenty of enemies.

The truth mattered. ‘Lie to others,’ his grandfather used to say, ‘but don’t be fool enough to lie to yourself.’ Last summer, and then again at the start of this year, he had sent in reports of serious trouble brewing in the north. Everything he saw and heard had convinced him that it was only a matter of time before the tribes broke their alliance with Rome, but his superiors had scoffed at his fears, and nothing had happened so far, so he was now marked down as an alarmist, possibly unreliable. If he roused the garrisons with stories of great raiding bands of barbarians and it all proved to be nothing then he was finished. Crescens for one would happily testify to his drunkenness at the time of the alarm and there were bound to be others who would back up his story. After all, it was the truth. He would be broken, dishonourably discharged and lose the last faint traces of purpose and meaning in his life. Ferox could not face that, for he had nowhere else to go.

‘It is a bit early for a big raid,’ Ferox said, trying to delay the decision.

Vindex looked more than usually gaunt. ‘Depends who they are,’ he said. ‘And what they want.’

Most bands came for livestock. There might be a few of them, especially if they were horse thieves, or several dozen. If it was a bigger attack, a chieftain with the warriors oath-bound to serve him and any others who wanted to come along, then they wanted more than to take a few animals. The best time was in a month or so, when autumn was truly here. That meant sheep and cattle fat and strong from summer pastures, ground frosted and hard so that the going was good, and the sheltering darkness of longer nights.

Ferox wondered if this was a murder raid. They were rarer these days, with all the tribes and clans allied to Rome and encouraged to be friendly to each other. A big part of Ferox’s job was to hear complaints and arbitrate in disputes so that men were less tempted to go and burn someone else’s house down. Much depended on the chieftains, whether they sent their clansmen to him, settled the matter themselves or refused to get involved. There were still warriors out there eager to take heads and add to their reputations as dangerous men. Some of the chieftains were as keen for glory or to prove their power, and then there was always hatred and vengeance.

‘Someone took that young bugger’s head,’ Vindex said.

Ferox wanted to think, and needed quiet to do it, but had learned to value the Brigantian’s judgement.

‘Didn’t take the Goat Man’s, though, did they?’

Vindex was unimpressed. ‘Well, would you want that ugly old sod staring at you?’

Ferox did not know the old man’s real name, and wondered whether anyone really knew it or knew him. They called him the Goat Man, or sometimes just Goat, and even men who were grandfathers could only ever recall him being old. He had no home, but wandered the lands with his goats and the small boy who helped him tend to them. Sometimes he stayed in farms or villages, sometimes in caves or huddled in the shelter of trees. Everyone knew him and he never had a good word for anyone else, but he seemed to draw animals to him. Farmers hoped he would come if their cows went dry or the sheep were sick, for Goat Man understood the lore of creatures and how to heal them.

‘It won’t be the same without him,’ Ferox said.

‘Yes, it will be a lot less miserable. He never had a kind word for anyone, not that I ever heard. He’s cursed me plenty of times.’

Goat Man was never happy and never grateful. He arrived at a man’s house at night, took shelter and food and the place closest to the fire. He stayed as long as he wanted, then left without a word and without any thanks. Yet he was always welcome and more than a little feared.

‘I’ve heard people say that he was a god or spirit in disguise.’

Vindex threw his head back and laughed, causing a murmur to run around the men following them. ‘Humpin’ good disguise if it was.’ He thought for a moment. ‘But he’s dead as stone, and you can’t kill a god.’

‘I do not think they meant to kill him,’ Ferox said, rubbing the thick stubble on his chin.

‘That’s kind of them.’

‘Reckon they wanted something from him,’ he continued, trying the idea out as he spoke. ‘Probably wanted him to guide them, and when he refused they slapped him around and he died on them.’

‘Probably just to spite ’em, knowing that miserable git.’ Vindex chuckled to himself. ‘What about the other one? Did he try to help?’

‘No, he must be one of their band. I do not think he was from these parts. Something happened, he broke his leg and that was that. He’d only slow them down, so they killed him.’

‘Nice to have friends,’ Vindex said. ‘Why take the head – and the hand?’

‘That I do not know, but he let them.’ The cut to the neck was neat and from behind. It was a hard thing to take off a head with one blow, and to do it so well suggested skill and practice. Ferox imagined the man meekly waiting, probably a couple of others helping him to kneel in spite of the agony from his leg and one of the others raising his sword, timing it carefully before the downward sweep. ‘They took the hand afterwards. Maybe they have Goat Man’s boy as a guide or maybe he escaped. But I think—’

Ferox broke off, brought his gelding to a halt and held up his hand to stop the others. He swung down and walked forward through the long grass. They were in another little valley, a muddy stream at the bottom, and in one patch the ground on either side was churned and marked with the tracks of horses.

‘Careless,’ Vindex said, but the centurion raised his hand angrily for silence. Ferox crouched, studying the ground some way from the stream.

The Brigantian took the reins of the centurion’s gelding and walked his own horse forward.

‘Twenty, maybe a couple of dozen,’ Ferox said without looking up. ‘A couple with packs and a couple more unridden. Some of the horses are big, and some carrying heavy riders.’

‘As I said, but these are not the ones we followed.’ Vindex and his men had found the tracks of one party the day before, following it and finding the bodies. Just before sunset they had seen another similar-sized group join the first. Now there was a third bunch, heading in the same direction and probably planning to meet, which meant a band fifty or sixty strong at least, and one that was well prepared. The bigger horses were a puzzle. The tracks looked more like army mounts than ponies.

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