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Give me back my Legions!
  • Текст добавлен: 9 октября 2016, 01:56

Текст книги "Give me back my Legions!"

Автор книги: Harry Norman Turtledove




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Текущая страница: 10 (всего у книги 21 страниц)

Her father wasn’t helpful. “She didn’t do anything that made her no maiden,” the man said. “As long as she bleeds on her wedding night, nothing else matters. And she will. My wife made sure of that.” He held up his middle finger to show how.

“But . . .” Arminius wanted to hit him. “She sold herself!”

“Got a good price, too,” the other German agreed. “These Romans must have silver falling out of their assholes, the way they throw it around. Plenty of chieftains with less than we’ve got now.” He eyed Arminius.

“Do youhave that much?”

“Yes,” Arminius said flatly. If the other man challenged him, it would give him the excuse he wanted to murder the fellow. But the man just stood there outside of his steading, a foolish grin on his face. Arminius tried again: “Don’t you see? Before the Romans set up their cursed camp near here, your daughter never would have done anything like this.”

“I should say not,” the girl’s father answered. For a moment, Arminius thought he’d reached him. Then the wretch continued, “Before the Romans came, nobody could’ve paid anywhere near so well.”

“We have to get rid of them,” Arminius insisted. “They’ll ruin us if we don’t.”

The older man stared at him in what Arminius hoped was honest incomprehension. “Why do you want to get rid of them when they’re making us rich? I can spend some of this silver at their camp for things they have and we don’t. My little girl wants some fancy combs for her hair. Hard to tell her no when she was the one who made the money, eh?

I can even buy wine if I want to. Like I said, I might as well be a chieftain myself.”

“You might as well be a swine,” Arminius said.

“I don’t know who you are, but you’ve got no cause to talk to me that way.” The villager didn’t reach for a spear or a sword. He was brave enough running his mouth, but not when he had to back up his words.

So it seemed to Arminius, anyhow. He didn’t think about what it might be like to confront a large, fierce, well-armed stranger only a little more than half his age. People half Arminius’ age were children; he didn’t need to fear them.

He didn’t need to fear the shameless girl’s father, either. He turned his back and strode away. If his scorn made the other man respond, he would do what he had to do – what he wanted to do. But, regretfully, he didn’t think it would. And he turned out to be right.

He wondered if he could make it out of the village without being sick. He managed, but it wasn’t easy. The Romans purposely changed the way the folk they conquered did things. He’d heard about that in Gaul, and seen it with his own eyes in Pannonia. They were like potters working with soft clay, shaping it into whatever they wanted.

They also changed people – and peoples – without meaning to. If they hadn’t set up their encampment so close to this village, that man would have stayed an ordinary fellow. Oh, chances were he never would have been a hero or any kind of leader, but Arminius wouldn’t have wanted to wipe him off the sole of his shoe like a dog turd, either. The man never would have been proud of how much his daughter could make going down on her knees.

And he wouldn’t have worried about fancy combs or wine. The Romans might not have known that they used such things as weapons, but they did. Too many Germans craved what they lacked and the Romans had. Wine and luxury goods had bought too many chieftains – Arminius’ fists clenched as he thought of Thusnelda’s father.

Silver – no matter how you got it – could buy lesser men, too. And if the Romans bought enough men and women, if they persuaded them the way of life inside the Empire was better than their own . . . what then? Why, the folk of Germany would turn into Romans. They would be taxpayers, slaves, the way the Romans themselves were slaves.

Arminius shook his head. “By Tuisto and Mannus, it will not happen!” he vowed. Tuisto was a god born of the earth. Mannus, Tuisto’s son, was reckoned father of the German folk. Mannus’ three sons were said to be the ancestors of the three divisions of German stock. Some people gave Mannus many more sons, men whose names matched those of the various German tribes. Maybe they were right – how could anyone now know for sure? But Arminius preferred the simpler arrangement.

He wanted things simple in his Germany, too. He wanted his folk to stay free, the way it had always been. And he wanted to drive the Romans back over the Rhine. He would have liked to drive them farther still, but he didn’t suppose the spineless Gauls would help.

Men like the gleeful pimp back in that village made him wonder if even his own folk would help.


When Quinctilius Varus rode forth from Mindenum, he rode forth with the idea that he was somebody and needed to be seen as somebody. He much preferred civilian clothes to a general’s muscled corselet and scarlet cloak, but conscientiously donned them anyhow.

“You look . . . magnificent, sir,” Aristocles murmured, tightening the fastenings that held the corselet’s breast and back pieces together.

Did that little pause conceal the word ridiculous?Varus suspected it did, but he couldn’t prove it, and the slave would only deny everything. What else did slaves do? Better not to pick a fight you had no hope of winning. Instead, Varus said, “I aim to overawe the barbarians. Let them see Roman might, personified in me. Let them see, yes, and let them despair of resisting.”

“Of course, sir,” Aristocles said. It might have been agreement. Or it might have been, You must be joking, sir.

Again, Varus couldn’t prove a thing. Again, he had sense enough not to try. Instead, cloak swirling around him, he strode out of the tent. A cavalry officer standing outside gave him a clenched-fist salute.

The officer also gave him a leg-up. He settled himself in the saddle. He would have preferred a litter, but he could ride tolerably well. The Germans, for their part, had made it very plain that they despised litters. They didn’t think a man had any business being carried by other men. To Varus’ mind, that was only one more proof they were barbarians. He hated having to cater to local prejudices. But, since he did want to impress, he found himself with little choice.

Vala Numonius rode with him. So did a troop of stolid cavalrymen. The Germans could still overwhelm them if they wanted to badly enough. But he had enough Romans with him to put up a stout fight. And the Germans had to know his murder would lead to vengeance on a scale they could barely imagine. Varus felt safe enough.

Besides, the village where he was going was supposed to be friendly. The locals had begun holding assemblies to talk about what they should do, very much as villagers in Italy might have done. So reports said, anyhow. One thing Varus had learned in his administrative career: if you trusted reports, if you didn’t go out and see for yourself, sooner or later something would bite you in the backside.

Probably sooner.

“We’ll make Roman subjects out of them yet,” he said to Vala Numonius.

“Gods grant it be so,” the cavalry commander answered. “But we could build a new Rome in place of our encampment here, and I still wouldn’t be sorry to see the last of this miserable country. No olive oil. No wine. Too cursed many Germans.”

“I know what you mean,” Varus said. “Still, Augustus didn’t send me here to fail. We collected taxes from them last fall. We’ll take more this time around – see if we don’t – and most of it in silver. Half the battle is getting them used to the idea of paying. Once they are, once they don’t grab for their spears every time the tax-collector comes around, we’ll be on the road to triumph.” He hastily chose a different word: “To victory.”

“I understand, sir,” Numonius assured him.

Since Augustus became the supreme leader in the Roman world, generals couldn’t aspire to a proper triumph: a procession through the streets of Roman acclaiming them for what they’d done. Their victories were assumed to come in Augustus’ name and at his behest. If you said you wanted a triumph of your own, it was almost the same as saying you wanted Augustus’ position.

Varus . . . wouldn’t have minded having it. He didn’t think he’d get it after Augustus died, though. Of Augustus’ surviving kin, all the signs pointed to Tiberius. Not only had he been (disastrously) married to Augustus’ daughter, he was also Augustus’ wife’s son and a first-rate soldier to boot. Overthrowing him would take a civil war, and Rome had seen too many.

But Tiberius was within a year or two of Varus’ age, and childless. If he died fairly soon . . . In that case, people might look to me,Varus thought.

A branch hanging down from an oak into the narrow path swatted him in the face and snuffed out his daydreams of imperial glory. “Never mind building a new Rome here, Numonius,” he said. “What we need to build in this benighted place are some decent roads.”

“You’ve thrown a triple six with that, sir!” Vala Numonius exclaimed. “It won’t be easy or cheap, though. So much of this country is swamp or bog or mud or something else disgusting.”

“We can do it,” Varus said. “Back a lifetime ago, the Germans never dreamt we could bridge the Rhine and punish them for sticking their noses into Gaul. Caesar showed them how ignorant they were. And proper highways would be worth their weight in gold here. Except along rivers, we have a demon of a time getting troops where they need to go.”

“Don’t I know it!” Numonius rolled his eyes. “Horsemen have an even worse time pushing down these narrow, twisting tracks or slogging through the mud than foot soldiers do.”

“Yes, I can see how that would be so.” Varus’ decisive nod was patterned after the one Augustus habitually used. “Roads, then. As soon as we decide it’s safe enough for the engineers to start working on them. Or maybe even a little before that.”

“A little before that would be very good,” Vala Numonius said. “If you wait till you’re sure you’re safe in Germany, you’ll wait forever.”

“Ha!” Varus’ laugh faded to a rueful chuckle. “That’s one of those jokes that would be funny if only it were funny, if you know what I mean.”

One of the Romans riding ahead of the governor and the cavalry commander said, “Here’s their village, sir.” Under his breath, he added, “Gods-forsaken little pisspot of a place, isn’t it?”

Quinctilius Varus didn’t think he was meant to catch that last, so he pretended he didn’t. As the path came out of the forest into the cleared land around the village and he got a good look at it, he found he had a hard time disagreeing with the cavalryman.

The cattle and sheep were small and scrubby, the horses mere ponies. The swine seemed only half a step up from wild boars, while the snarling dogs might have come straight from the wolfpacks that roamed the woods. The houses were huts, with walls of mud and sticks and with thatched roofs that hung out on all sides far enough to keep the rain from melting the mud.

And the people . . . were Germans. Varus had got to the point where he didn’t mind watching the women. They were tall, strongly made, and most of them fair. Nothing wrong with any of that. The men, though, were as close to wild as the pigs and the dogs. He’d learned that calling another man a swinehound was a favorite German insult. Now he thought he understood why they used it. It suited them.

Ten or twelve big men, all swathed in cloaks and carrying spears, stood around in what passed for the village square arguing with one another. They shouted. They clenched fists and shook them under their neighbors’ noses. No one ran anybody through, but Varus wondered if it was only a matter of time.

“This is the assembly they wanted you to see, sir?” Vala Numonius said. “If they’re proud enough of this to want to show it off, gods only know what they do when we’re not watching.”

“Too true,” Varus said with a sigh. Still, he could write to Augustus and truthfully – well, almost truthfully – tell him he’d seen the Germans begin to imitate Roman institutions. Augustus would be glad to hear something of that sort. And if it wasn’t as true as it might have been just yet, Varus would make it so before too long. He was confident of that.

Then one of the barbarians startled him by waving and calling out in pretty fair Latin: “Hail, your Excellency! Good to see you! How are you today? Would you like me to translate for you?”

“Arminius!” Varus was pleased he remembered the fellow’s name. He’d had it shouted in his ear all winter long, of course, to say nothing of the scandal the summer before. But Arminius was only a German, after all. A lot of Romans wouldn’t have bothered recalling his barbarous appellation no matter what. So ... Quinctilius Varus was pleased.

The Germans in the village debated what they ought to do about men from a village a few leagues away who ran off their cattle on moonless nights. They’d already decided what they would do: they planned to set an ambush and slaughter the thieves. But they couldn’t say that in front of the Romans, who aimed to reserve killing for themselves– – one more usurpation among so many.

Arminius turned what they did say into Latin for Quinctilius Varus. He couldn’t shade the translation much. Varus would have someone else along who spoke the German tongue. Arminius didn’t want anyone giving him the lie in front of the important Roman. He just hoped the men in this supposedly Roman-style assembly wouldn’t come out with something everyone would regret.

To his relief, they didn’t. One of them even asked Varus to send soldiers to the other village to order its men to stop thieving. Why not? The order wouldn’t make them stop, but it would humiliate them. They deserved that. So these villagers thought, anyhow.

Arminius didn’t care one way or the other. They weren’t men of his clan, or even of his tribe. Their very dialect sounded odd in his ears. But they were Germans. They shouldn’t have had to pretend to follow Roman customs to make this big-bellied Quinctilius Varus happy.

And Arminius himself shouldn’t have had to smile and clasp this big-bellied Roman’s hand and pretend to be his friend. He’d made Varus like him the summer before; if he hadn’t, Segestes would have used the official to get his vengeance for losing Thusnelda.

From what Varus said, Arminius reminded him of his own son, who was growing to manhood down inside the Roman Empire. That was probably lucky for the German. If Varus had no children or only daughters, or if his son were different . . . Better, perhaps not to dwell on such chances.

To Arminius’ way of thinking, if the younger Varus were any kind of a man, he would be here in Germany with his father. What better thing could a son do than help his father accomplish something important for their folk? Maybe it wasn’t good to remind the Roman of a son like that.

But Varus himself seemed to find nothing amiss in the youngster’s absence. The Romans didn’t have the family cohesion Arminius’ folk took for granted. Husbands and wives in the Empire divorced for any reason or none at all, and no one there thought the worse of them because of it. Roman women were so fickle, so faithless, that their men had got used to it and even made jokes about it. To a strait-laced German, that was truly shocking.

At last, the farce in the village played itself out. Beaming, Quinctilius Varus told Arminius, “Please convey to these distinguished gentlemen how much I admire their thoughtful and mature deliberations. The course they plan seems wise and just. One day, their grandsons may wear the toga and ornament the debates of the Senate in Rome.”

As best he could, Arminius did put that into his own language. Again, he dared not shade the translation, lest some Roman who knew his tongue give him away. He hoped the men who’d gathered in the square would remember they weren’t supposed to show Varus what they really thought of him. To Arminius’ relief, they did remember. The Roman had brought along enough cavalrymen to massacre the so-called assembly here and the rest of the village besides. That no doubt helped the Germans concentrate on what they needed to do.

Arminius particularly admired them for not showing offense when Varus said their descendants might one day become Roman Senators.

Varus meant it as a compliment. The Germans received it as if it were one rather than the last thing they wanted.

“That went very well – even better than I would have hoped,” Quinctilius Varus said as most of the men returned to their steadings.

Staying there in the square with all these Romans, Arminius felt very much alone. He did his best not to show it. Wasn’t he, in Varus’ eyes, a Roman citizen? Wouldn’t a Roman citizen be at ease with his fellow citizens? Of course he would . . . seem to be.

“They grow used to the idea that their future will be part of the Empire’s future,” Arminius replied. He didn’t say the men of his folk liked that idea, but neither Varus nor any of the other Romans noticed the omission. Like any men, they heard what they wanted to hear, regardless of whether it was really there.

“This is not your home, is it, Arminius? You live north and west of Mindenum, don’t you?” Varus said.

“Yes, that’s right, your Excellency,” Arminius said. “You honor me by remembering it. One day, perhaps, you will honor me more by visiting me among my clansmen.”

“Why, perhaps I shall.” If Varus sounded surprised that Arminius should suggest such a thing, he covered that surprise with layer upon layer of practiced Roman politesse. “It would be a rare privilege, in fact.”

“May the day come soon,” Arminius said.

“Indeed.” Quinctilius Varus nodded and smiled. “And, since you find yourself away from home now, would you care to come back to Mindenum and sup with me this evening?”

“I would like nothing more,” said Arminius, who would have liked anything more. But he couldn’t refuse the Roman, not unless he wanted Varus to believe he mistrusted him. Arminius didmistrust Varus, but didn’t want him believing that. And so I stick my head into the bear’s mouth again,the German thought.

“Splendid! Splendid!” Varus’ jowly smile got wider. He turned to some of the other Romans who’d come with him to watch the farce in the village. “There, my friends! Do you see?”

Some of the small, swarthy men nodded. Even the ones who did, though, eyed Arminius like hounds eyeing a wolf. So what exactly had the Roman governor meant by that? Something like No matter what you’ve heard about this barbarian, he’s not such a bad fellow after all?Arminius didn’t see how he could mean anything else.

And what would the Romans have heard about him? Unfortunately, he had no trouble figuring that out, either. Word of what he’d gone through Germany saying during the winter would have got back to them. Well, Arminius already knew it had. Segestes and his henchmen had made sure of that. If only my friends could have killed Masua,Arminius thought angrily.

But Varus still believed he was friendly to the Empire, and these other Romans would have to be wondering, wouldn’t they? A man who hated their folk wouldn’t stick his head into the bear’s mouth on purpose, would he? (The Romans would have talked about sticking your head into a lion’s mouth. Arminius had seen a lion at a beast show in Pannonia. Any god that could create a wildcat the size of a bear was a god to be wary of.)

Varus’ cavalry commander was a dour fellow named Vala Numonius. He eyed Arminius the way a snake eyed a toad. “I’m sure you will enjoy the wine at supper, eh?” he said.

The only reason you said yes to Varus was to guzzle our fine vintages.That wasn’t what he said, but it was what he meant. Arminius looked back just as coldly; the Romans often scorned someone who let his temper run away with him. “I like beer about as well,” he said in a wintry voice, adding, “I’m no water-drinker. You ask for a flux of the bowels if you do that when you don’t have to.”

“He’s got you there!” Quinctilius Varus said with a chuckle. “You can’t very well tell him he’s wrong, either.”

“No, sir,” Numonius answered tonelessly. That quiet reply didn’t mean he agreed. Oh, no. It meant he despised Arminius all the more, but he didn’t feel like showing it. A German would have. But the Roman was a serpent, all right. He tried to make himself invisible in the grass, but he’d poison you if you stepped on him.

Varus either took no notice of Numonius’ unhappiness or affected not to see it. “Well, let’s go back,” he said. “You have a horse, Arminius?”

“Yes, sir,” the German said. He vaulted into the saddle without bothering to ask for a leg-up. It was less of a feat than it might have been; he was a big man getting up onto a small horse. Standing next to the Romans, he was taller than any of them. Riding with them, he was the shortest man in the group. They noticed as soon as he did. Their chuckles said they liked it.

Arminius shrugged. Yes, he craved a charger like the one Vala Numonius rode. But he was still himself, the Romans still themselves. Had he been sitting on a short stool while they used high ones, he still would have been taller than they were. And so he was now, whether they liked it or not.

They didn’t have much to say to one another or to him as they all rode back to the Roman encampment in the German heartland. Their glances his way told him they would have liked to talk about him, but their silence proclaimed that they remembered he spoke good Latin.

The Roman sentries frankly stared at him when he rode in with Varus and Vala Numonius and the rest of the Romans. Arminius didn’t think he could behave haughtily toward the Roman officers in whose company he found himself. Sentries? They were a different story. He affected not to notice them as he went by.

“Miserable scut!” one of the common soldiers growled.

“Who does he think he is?” another said. Maybe they didn’t know he could follow their language. More likely, they just didn’t care. Unlike their superiors, they weren’t hypocrites. When they didn’t like somebody, they didn’t try to hide it.

Quinctilius Varus’ Greek slave looked surprised to see Arminius in the company of his master. The weedy little man – Aristocles was his name, Arminius remembered – somehow contrived to look down on Romans as well as Germans. Varus and the legionaries here knew it, too, but for reasons beyond Arminius’ ken they failed to get angry. Come to that, he’d seen the same thing with the few Greeks he’d met in Pannonia. He didn’t understand it, but he was sure it was real.

“I’ll let the cooks know we have a . . . distinguished guest,” Aristocles said.

“By all means. Thank you.” Quinctilius Varus didn’t notice the slave’s discreet pause -or, if he did, he pretended not to. Yes, Romans were master dissemblers.

Henoticed Aristocles’ hesitation. He knew what it meant, too. Aristocles thought he would have got angry if he heard something like We have a hairy barbarian eating with us tonight.Well, the Greekling wasn’t wrong.

“Oh, Aristocles!” Varus called when his slave had already taken a couple of steps away.

The man perforce stopped. “Yes, sir?”

“Bring us some wine when you come back. It’s been a long day. We can all use some refreshment.”

“Of course, sir.” This time, Aristocles succeeded in disappearing.

Of course, sir.What else could a slave say? The Germans kept slaves, too – what folk didn’t? Theirs, though, were less like to be body servants, more likely to be farmers who owed their masters a share of what they raised. A German master was less likely to beat or whip a slave than a Roman was. But a German was more likely to lose his temper and kill a man he owned. And why not? It wasn’t as if he had to pay any penalty for doing it.

If the Romans got their way, they’d turn all the Germans from the Rhine to the Elbe into slaves – maybe even farther, if they thought their legions could bring it off. They’d already enslaved more lands, more peoples, than most Germans had ever imagined. Arminius remained determined he wouldn’t let them do that to his folk.

Aristocles returned with a large tray, cups, a jar of wine, and a jar of water. He set the tray down on a light, folding table: a clever and useful piece of furniture. He mixed wine and water for the legionary officers, but paused before serving Arminius. “How would you like your wine, sir?” he inquired.

“The same way the other Roman citizens are having theirs,” Arminius replied. Face carefully blank, the Greek handed him a cup of watered wine.

Laughing, Varus said, “He got you there, Aristocles.” The slave affected not to hear. Arminius would have boxed the man’s ears for such insolence, but Varus put up with it. Some Romans, as Arminius had seen in Pannonia, let slaves get away with more than free subordinates. No German would do that.

“I thought you would sooner drink your wine neat,” Vala Numonius said to Arminius.

“I would if you gentlemen were doing the same,” the German answered. “But if I get drunk while your heads stay clear, you’ll laugh at me. I don’t fancy that.”

The Roman cavalry commander looked surprised for a moment. Then he raised his cup in salute. “I’ve heard you were clever. It seems to be so.”

“For which I thank you.” Arminius also raised his cup. “Your health.” They grudgingly drank to each other.

When the cook came out to announce that supper was ready, Arminius was glad to see the man had a double chin and a potbelly. Who would have wanted a meal from a man who didn’t like his own cooking?

He had a skinnier slave of his own – or maybe the man who carried out the heavy tray of food was a more junior cook. The greens course was covered with a mixture of wine vinegar, olive oil, and ground spices. No German would have seasoned them that way, but Arminius had met such dressings in Pannonia. This one didn’t drive him wild, but he could deal with it.

Boiled turnips in a cheese sauce seemed less exotic. A German cook might have made the same dish, though the Roman cheese was sharper than Arminius was used to. The main course was roasted slices of boar. The meat was fine. The sauce, on the other hand . . .

“I know you Romans like garlic,” Arminius said. “But what’s that other spice you put on it, the one that bites the tongue?”

“That’s pepper,” Varus told him. “It comes into the Empire all the way from India.”

“Why?” Arminius asked.

“We like it,” Varus answered. The other Roman officers nodded so promptly, Arminius didn’t think they were agreeing only because their superior had spoken. Varus went on, “Don’t you care for the flavor it adds?”

“Maybe I’m just not used to it,” Arminius said. “I suppose it would be good to mask the taste of meat that’s going off. But what you have here is nice and fresh. It doesn’t need to be hidden by all that garlic and, uh, pepper.”

“We think bland food is boring,” Vala Numonius said. The officers nodded once more.

“What you eat is your business,” Arminius said. “But if you try to feed it to me, I may not like it so well. Romans and Germans are not the same.”

A considerable silence followed. Arminius decided he might have said too much even if his wine was watered. Varus said, “Do I need to remind you that you are a Roman citizen?”

“No, sir. I am proud to be a Roman citizen. It is a great honor.” Arminius knew the Romans reckoned it one. And he wasproud – it showed he’d successfully deceived his foes. He went on, “My head and my heart are glad to be Roman. My tongue and my belly remember I was born German. I don’t know what to do about that.”

Varus and several officers smiled. Not all of them did, though. A man Arminius didn’t know asked, “Was it your German tongue that made you say your people ought to chase all the Romans out of Germany?”

The pork suddenly sat heavy in Arminius’ stomach. He was in his enemies’ power here. If they wanted to stretch out a hand and crush him, they could. The trick, then, was making sure they didn’t want to – or, at least, making sure the most powerful one didn’t.

“I never said anything like that,” Arminius answered steadily. “I never would say anything like that. Whoever told you I did – whoever told you I would – is a liar. There are Germans who do not love me. Segestes insulted me, and you know how I answered his insult. So now Segestes spreads lies wherever he can, and uses his friends to spread them, too. I can’t do anything about that except to remind you they are lies.”

He waited. They didn’t have to believe him. Some of them plainly didn’t. But Varus said, “Yes, we’ve been over this ground before. Don’t worry, Arminius. Whatever Segestes and his friends say, we know we need to take it cum grano salis.”

“ ‘With a grain of salt’?” Arminius echoed. “I know what the words mean, but not the phrase.”

“It means we have to doubt whatever they say,” Varus explained. “And that is so – we do.” He looked down from the head of the table, waiting for anyone to challenge him.

No one did. At a German feast, someone would have. And when someone challenged him, it would have gone from words to spears in the blink of an eye. The Romans accepted Varus’ guidance because he held the highest rank among them.

Was that better or worse than the German way? It was simpler, anyhow. If the man of highest rank knew what he was doing, everyone would do well by obeying his commands.

If he didn’t . . . Arminius slept at Mindenum that night. He left the encampment the next morning. The Romans could have rid themselves of a great danger. They didn’t. Arminius waited till he was more than a bowshot away from the encampment’s earthwork and ditch. Then, making sure he kept his back to Mindenum so the sentries wouldn’t notice him doing it, he laughed and laughed and laughed some more.

Roman soldiers liked to complain. Vala Numonius knew as much. But what Lucius Eggius was doing went far beyond complaint. “You really should watch your tongue,” the cavalry commander said. “If you don’t, someone will say you’re trying to incite a mutiny.”

“By the gods, maybe we need one!” Eggius burst out.

Vala Numonius looked at him. “I am going to do you the biggest favor anyone ever did. I am going to pretend I didn’t hear that. You can thank me when you come to your senses.”

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