Iron and Scarlet

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As a Roman centurion posted to Britannia, Quentin felt superior. Then he met Conor

 

Chapter I

Early March,  A.D. 139

Four days out of Eboracum they caught their first glimpse of the Wall. It rose white and shining in the distance, its milecastle towers clearly visible as the troop of thirty men topped the rise and began the downward march toward Cilurnum, the Wall fort that was their destination today.

To Gaius Maximius Quentin, the centurion marching at the head of the troop, the Wall was a welcome sight as it towered over the ridges, covered with sparse grass, of this rough northern frontier of Britannia. Not only did it mean they were nearing the end of their march, but in his eyes it was a sign of Roman civilization in this dismal, mist-filled country of hostile barbarians and fanatic Druids. 

Impatiently, he shook off that thought; throughout his twenty-four years, the last seven of them served in the Army of Imperial Rome, he had never paid undue attention to old people’s tales of vengeful, Otherworld beings and sorcery in misty Britannia.  Maximius Quentin was far more preoccupied with the concerns of his own world, particularly his foremost problem: how to make a name for himself as a warrior, at a time when the known world was enjoying the longest peace in recorded history—the Pax Romana.

His promotion to centurion had occurred just in time. In Germania Inferior, where he had been comfortably quartered for two years at the fort of Vetera, army life was routine, but centurions rostered in from other parts of the empire—for centurions as a class were moved from post to post, to keep them from becoming too friendly with the men who served under them—assured him that defending the Wall against barbarian incursions across the border between Caledonia and Brigantia would give him all the fighting he wanted.

“You’ll show those tribesmen what the Roman army is made of,” old Sabinus used to say, in the barracks at Vetera. A battle-scarred veteran who’d served in Palestine and Syria as well as Britannia, he laughed as he glanced at Quentin, leaning forward to hear more. “Just wait until they come yelling out of the mist, painted blue all over, with their hair standing up in spikes on their heads! But for all their bravery, they’re not proof against our troops. No discipline.”

And then he would lift another cup of tempered wine to his lips and laugh again as he recalled for Quentin’s  benefit how the tribesmen fought without armor, often without clothing even, rushing into battle wearing nothing but hatred in their eyes and hard-ons lower down.

Recalling Sabinus’ tales, Quentin grinned as he looked about him. He was marching at the head of two dozen troops on their way to deliver the pay for the First Cohort of Dalmatians, the auxiliary force currently stationed at Cilurnum. For reasons best known to himself, in this first year of his reign the Emperor Antoninus Pius from his palace in Rome had ordered the cavalry to be phased out and replaced with infantry. The cavalry wing, or ala quingenaria, previously stationed at Cilurnum had therefore been replaced with the 480-man force known as a cohors quingenaria equitata.  The title signified that one 120 men of the First Cohort of Dalmatians were cavalry, the remainder infantry. However, as with most auxiliary forces, the officers were Roman.

The troops’ nailed boots struck the surface of the Roman-built road in a practiced rhythm, but except for the occasional whinny from the pack mules and the muttered curses of the half-dozen or so slaves who struggled to keep up with the soldiers, the force behind him marched in disciplined silence. And somewhere in the short baggage train, on one of the mules that carried the tents of each contubernium, or unit of eight men, was the pay chest containing the wages of every soldier in Cilurnum. Only after the pay chest had been safely delivered to the prefect of the fort would the men of the escort begin to talk and laugh, as soldiers did when at ease.

For once the weather was fair on this day in early March, with wisps of white cloud blowing across a pale blue sky and sunlight softening the edge of the cold wind sweeping off the moors. Quentin had been in the country only two weeks, but already he loathed it. To be sure, Germania had had its share of wintry skies and cold winds, but when winter was past, the sun was almost as strong and the air nearly as warm as in Rome itself. Not like here, he thought, drawing his cloak a little higher up to his ears as a gust of wind assaulted him, where a morning of sun gives way to an afternoon of rain and an evening of mist and chill.

But as he scanned the countryside around him, looking for signs of human habitation, the same sunlight that danced in and out of the clouds showed him a silvery glint of iron among the ridges on the left side of the road. 

So unexpected was the sight that it took seconds for his mind to translate the significance of what he was looking at: the polished iron of barbarian spear-tips, in the hands of a warband hidden behind the ridges.

Even as he turned to yell “Testudo!” to his men, his left arm automatically raised his shield above his head; behind him the troops facing the attackers turned their shields outward in one swift movement, while the rest of the troops arranged themselves in the tortoise formation on the other side. And not a moment too soon, for immediately afterwards Quentin felt the impact of iron hitting his shield and heard for the first time the Brigantian battle cry. He shuddered, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck beginning to stand on end. Never in his life had he heard anything to compare with it: it sounded like the wail of a soul in Hades, realizing that it had forgotten the silver coins to pay Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead across the River Styx.

But his training in the hard school of the Roman army, with its focus on grim common sense, came to his rescue.  A noise was only a noise; he had no fear of it. Again he shouted to his men. 

“Stand fast!”

He drew his gladius, the short broadsword that Roman soldiers used so effectively in their habitual stabbing thrusts, and the men of the escort, in testudo formation, stood their ground.

The barbarians, with hair limed until it stood upright, giving their blue-painted faces a look of perpetual surprise, were a sight to make anyone draw a horrified breath, even trained auxiliary troops. With part of his mind Quentin noticed that far from fighting naked, these Britons wore checkered wool cloaks and bracae, the trousers essential to keeping warm in this northern climate. 

Ignoring the thwacks of the javelins landing against his upturned shield and the howls of the British tribesmen, Quentin thought fast. He realized that the barbarians’ strategy was to harry the Romans into chasing them up the ridges, where they would be at the mercy of mounted tribesmen hurling spears. The best defense would be to make them come down to the level ground of the road, where they would be forced to dismount and fight hand to hand. The tribesmen used their long swords to slash their enemies, but slashing was inefficient compared with the stabbing thrusts the Romans used. He turned to Eustacius Felix, who as Quentin’s optio was second in command.

“Go down the line and tell each man to throw his javelins at the horses when I give the signal. Once the tribesmen are on foot, we can overcome them.”

Felix snaked away down the line, stopping to whisper to each man on the way. Acknowledgment moved quickly back up the line to Quentin; it was time.

“Pilae!”

The pilum was the regular Roman throwing spear. The men in the first rank lowered their shields and threw the pilae straight at the bodies of the horses that galloped around them.

“Second spears!”

The men in the second rank lowered their shields and hurled their spears. By now horses were screaming and neighing desperately as they went down; the tribesmen, thrown off their mounts, drew their swords and rushed down the slopes to meet the Romans.

Iron clanged against iron in the rapidly dimming light of the afternoon. Quentin fought with single-minded concentration, thankful that his auxiliaries were seasoned troops who needed very little direction. He was aware of the sweat oozing down from the neckerchief that protected his throat from the heavy metal edges of the mail shirt that he wore, and the churning of the earth beneath his nailed boots. He could smell the blood that spurted from the wounds of those around him and almost taste the sharpness of the wind that dried his throat.  His arms began to ache from wielding sword and shield as he parried enemy blows and inflicted his own.The Britons, still yelling their fury as they wielded their long swords, retreated up the slopes; as Sabinus had predicted, once their battle strategy collapsed, they could not withstand close combat with highly trained Roman infantry. At last those tribesmen still alive fled over the farther ridges, and the battle was over.

Almost immediately afterwards the earth trembled with the thunder of galloping hooves; turning, Quentin saw that at least half the fort cavalry had ridden up from Cilurnum.

“In the name of the Emperor, who goes there?” The speaker, a centurion who looked to be about his own age, saluted Quentin, who saluted back.

Quentin identified himself and his men. The other dismounted.

“Centurion Trebellius Arvina, at your service. Our exploratores saw the fighting and alerted the fort, but it appears we’ve arrived too late to be of help.”

Arvina was young, of average height and athletic build. His brown eyes as he glanced at the scene around him were full of worry, but his face looked good-natured. He and Quentin surveyed the damage: two of their own dead, ten of the Britons. Arvina was opening his mouth to speak when Quentin suddenly recalled the purpose of his mission. He grabbed the arm of the nearest man, one of the standard-bearers.

“The pay chest, man!  Is it safe?”

“Safe as the flame in the temple of Vesta,” Justus Bonus, the signifer, confirmed. “They never touched it.”

“That’s what they were after, of course,” Quentin said. “They must have got word from Eboracum, somehow, after we left there.”

On its way north, the escort had stopped at the regional legionary headquarters at Eboracum—now home to the Sixth Legion after the departure almost twenty years ago of the doomed Ninth—for an interval of rest and refreshment and, not incidentally, delivery of the Sixth’s own pay chest.

“They must be insane,” Quentin said. “The legate of the Sixth told us they hardly ever stage a daylight attack, especially on a day like this, when the visibility has been good. What were they, Brigantes?”

“I’d say so,” Arvina said. “The Wall cuts right across the Brigantes’ tribal territory.” 

Quentin felt the wind blowing a fine mist against his face and realized that it was raining. 

“Come on, men, let’s get our wounded to the hospital at Cilurnum.”

Quentin was the last to leave the scene. He quartered the area carefully, looking for any Roman dead or wounded that might have been overlooked earlier. But all that remained were dead barbarians; he almost tripped over one of them as he made his way back down the ridge to the road. But then the man he’d thought was dead moaned, stirred, and opened his eyes.

The eyes in a face painted blue with woad and covered in blood looked straight at Quentin. The pale lips parted and a word came out, in a  whisper. What was he saying? Quentin dropped to one knee, the better to hear.

“Roman.”  The accent was terrible, the whisper faint, but Quentin could understand the Latin word.

“Give me my sword, Roman, so I can kill myself. My sword is…” The barbarian lifted his head with a great effort and raised one arm a few inches. “…over there.”

Quentin looked in the direction indicated. He spotted a long sword lying in the grass a few feet away, picked it up, and brought it to the barbarian.

The man tried to raise himself to take the sword but fell back, trembling.

“You’re too weak to even hold it.  You won’t be able to kill yourself.”

The barbarian’s eyes, which had closed in exhaustion, fluttered open again. “You kill me.”

Quentin considered.  To kill in the heat of battle was one thing-—it was what he was trained to do; but to kill a wounded man after the battle was over, especially a man who was in no way able to defend himself, seemed cowardly. And his was a God who demanded courage of His followers. He frowned as he looked at the man. “Why?”

“It’s better,” whispered the barbarian. “Better…to die with honor.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Damn you, Roman,” the man whispered.  His eyes closed again.

Quentin bent down to examine him. The man still breathed, although with difficulty. He might survive if he received medical help soon. It might even be possible to question him if he could recover enough to regain consciousness. Besides, the practical part of his mind added, even all that blood can’t disguise the fact that torque around his neck is gold. If he’s important enough, and he lives, his tribe might pay a ransom to get him back.

The man was heavy, but Quentin, at six feet unusually tall for a Roman and in excellent trim from constant drilling, had little difficulty picking him up. He slung the unconscious man over his shoulder and made his way over to the pack mule that carried his tent in the baggage train. As an officer, he was entitled to a mule to himself to carry his equipment; the ranks had to share, one mule per contubernium. He’d take some of the tackle off his mule and let it carry the wounded barbarian.

An hour later, in a hard rain, the vexillation and its escort limped through the gate at Cilurnum, to the cheers of all those standing duty. The men were soaked, footsore, bruised, and in some cases wounded. Quentin, who had taken off his scarlet centurion’s cloak to cover the still-unconscious barbarian, felt cold and stiff. Never in his life had he been so glad to reach shelter.

“Take him to the hospital while I report to the prefect,” he directed one of the soldiers.  The man nodded, and he and a comrade lifted the barbarian off the mule and carried him away.

Inside the principia, the headquarters building, the flickering light of oil lamps, already lit against the rapidly darkening day, cast shadows against the stone walls. Quentin followed the sentry down the main hall, noticing that the stone-flagged floor was warm to his tired feet, and realized that Rome’s influence extended even as far as here on the northern frontier. Obviously the floor was warm because of the hypocausts beneath the building that heated the air and carried it in channels beneath the floor of the principia.

In the office, Plinius Jovius, prefect of the First Cohort of Dalmatians, was waiting with his aide-de-camp. This was a centurion of about thirty, whose black eyes surveyed Quentin with a look of contempt.

“How dare you come into the presence of the praefectus cohortis out of uniform?” he demanded as soon as Quentin had saluted them both.

Light of the Sun! Too late, Quentin remembered that his cloak was still wrapped around the wounded barbarian. Inwardly he cursed himself for his lack of discipline. He’d hoped to make a good impression on his new commanding officer.

“At ease, Centurion,” Jovius said.  “We’ll overlook your being out of uniform, as I understand you encountered trouble on the way here. This is my right-hand man, Centurion Arrius Fronto.”

Quentin acknowledged the introduction with a nod, keeping his face expressionless.

“Tell us what happened, Centurion,” Jovius urged. He was a short, stocky man of  forty-five or so, clearly a career officer on his last posting before retirement. He might have been unimpressive except that the brown eyes beneath the fierce eyebrows were still shrewd. Quentin suspected that they would miss nothing.

As briefly as possible, he told them what had transpired. “And what I still don’t understand, sir, is why they attacked in the first place. It was broad daylight, visibility at the time was good, and they could see as well as we how close we were to the fort.”

“Ah, well, they wanted the pay chest, of course. The fact is, Centurion, that the harvest has been bad for the last two years. The Britons are hungry and it’s the end of winter, so the hunting is bad too. They need money to buy grain from us—well, not us here at the fort, obviously, but elsewhere in Britannia, where it wouldn’t be known that they’d be buying with stolen money.”

“So they were desperate,” Quentin said.

“Of course they were.” Centurion Fronto spoke for the first time. “Ordinarily they’d never attack us in daylight. They usually wait until night, thinking to take us by surprise.”

“We’ll have to round up the ringleaders and exact retribution, of course,” Jovius said.

Quentin nodded.  It was a sorry fact of life, but the tribesmen had to be shown that attacking Rome was not only foolhardy but suicidal.

After a few more questions Commander Jovius dismissed Quentin. “Go to the baths, Centurion, and then to the officers’ mess. You’ve earned some time off.” 

“And get back into uniform,” Fronto added.

Quentin saluted both officers and left the principia, glad to escape what appeared to be the open dislike in Centurion Fronto’s expression. What was the matter with the man? He, Quentin, had arrived here half an hour ago: how, in that short time, could he merit such hostility from a fellow officer?

Shrugging it off for the time being, Quentin made his way to the fort valetudinarium, or hospital.  He wanted to see how the wounded Brigantian was faring.

The medicus had put the man to bed in one of the quiet, stone-walled rooms arranged around a central courtyard; a charcoal brazier placed near the bed gave out warmth, and a blanket, gaily patterned in the native fashion with squares of red, green, and blue, covered the patient. Quentin spied his cloak, neatly folded up on a chest and retrieved it; he’d get his slave to wash it that night and dry it in a warm room. As Quentin turned back to the bed, the barbarian’s eyes fluttered open and looked straight up at him.

“Where am I?” The badly accented Latin was hardly more than a whisper.

“You’re in the hospital at Cilurnum. Our medicus is going to take care of you.”

The barbarian smiled faintly. “Oh, good.  I’ll be dead by morning in that case.”

How irritating. He’d gone to considerable trouble to save this barbarian’s life—yet the man still preferred death. Well, he would do everything possible to thwart that wish. “What’s the matter?  Don’t you trust our Roman military doctors?”

“No,” the man whispered. “Only trust the wisewomen of my tribe.”

Quentin sighed impatiently. He’d heard from Sabinus about how the tribesmen showed far too much deference to the female sex, appointing women to governing councils and even allowing them to fight in wars. And this one preferred the medical attentions of a female savage to those of a highly skilled medicus, trained in the finest Greek tradition?

“All right.  I’ll get a wisewoman,” he said, and went out to see what he could find in the way of transport. 

_______________________

 

The horse they offered him, an import from Rome, evidently had some Parthian in her and she was the most beautiful creature he’d seen since he arrived in this wretched country. She stood sixteen hands high, a chestnut with a white star on her forehead, and looked at him with lustrous brown eyes.

“Does she have a name?” Quentin asked. He put out a careful hand and stroked the velvety nose.

“Yes,” the groom said.  “Astra.”

So she was named for the star on her forehead. Quentin vaulted into the saddle, and beckoned to the groom, who mounted another horse and led the way out of the stable yard. As they clopped out of the fort into the countryside again, Quentin noticed that the rain had slackened somewhat and the moving banks of clouds showed an occasional last gleam of daylight. They set off at a canter to the battleground and arrived in what seemed to Quentin a blessedly shorter time than it had taken earlier this afternoon. He peered around, hoping to find some tribesmen or women claiming their dead.

He was in luck. Just over a hillock he saw a woman bending down over one of the fallen Brigantians, clearly getting ready to drag him away.

“Halt!” Quentin called.

She looked up, startled, then turned and began to run.

Quentin jumped down from the horse, ran after her, and easily caught her up.

“Halt, I say!” He put his hand on her arm to detain her.  “Listen, mother, I mean you no harm. I need information from you.”

She looked at him, lifting her head to study his face, and in so doing the hood of her cloak fell back, exposing her hair. It was a mixture of gray, white, and silver, a curiously attractive blend; her eyes were gray, too, like the sky overhead, and as he looked into them he felt an inward shiver. There was something strange about the woman.

“One of your own lies wounded in our fort,” he explained. “He refuses the attention of our medical staff, saying that he only trusts the wisewomen of his tribe. Do you know any wisewomen? He will die without medical help.”

“I am Mairead, wisewoman of the Brigantes,” she said.“Who of our tribe lies wounded in Cilurnum?” She spoke Latin with the usual barbarian accent but at least she was fluent.

“I don’t know his name,” Quentin admitted. “He’s been unconscious most of the time. But I don’t want him to die. Will you come back with me?”

She gazed at him in silence for a time, then nodded. Relieved, he put his arm around her, the better to steady her on the slippery ground, and led her to his horse.

At the fort they knew him this time, so he was able to go through the gate without being challenged. In the via principalis, the road that ran right outside the principia, he slid off the horse and lifted Mairead down.

“This way,” he told her, indicating the hospital building with a jerk of his head.

He stayed outside the ward while Mairead went in to see the wounded man. As he waited, his mind ranged over the most pressing of the duties that awaited him: settle the men for the night, after making sure that they had all put their equipment away, visited the bathhouse, and eaten their evening meal; get Quentipor, his slave, to go to his new quarters and unpack his gear; find out if anything more in the way of duties than the usual responsibilities of a centurion were expected of him in this new posting; and think of some way to get into Jovius’ good graces and avoid Fronto’s company as much as possible. So deep in thought was he that he was startled to hear a cough and find Mairead standing in front of him.

“Will he live?”

“Do you want him to?”

“Yes,” Quentin said. It had somehow become a point of honor with him to keep the man alive.

Mairead lifted her eyebrows. “Then he will live.”

Quentin felt exasperated. What in Hades did she mean? It wasn’t up to him whether the man lived or died, it was a matter of the seriousness of the wound and whether the medical help available was sufficient to treat it. “How badly wounded is he?”

“He has a ruptured spleen. He needs to rest for six weeks, no work, beef broth to replace the lost blood…”

“Very well,” Quentin broke in, “but you need to tell that to the medicus, not to me. Who is he?  Do you know him?”

Mairead hesitated. “Yes,” she said after a short silence.

“Well?”

“His name is Conor mac Cailean. He’s the third son of Cailean, king of the Brigantes of this territory.”

“Ah, so he’s a prince,” Quentin said, gratified. “I thought he had the look of someone important.”

Without asking permission, Mairead suddenly took his right hand in her own, turned the palm upward, and looked at it hard. Quentin pulled his hand away; whatever she was up to, he wanted no part of it.

But Mairead seemed not at all put out by his rudeness. She looked up at him with her pale eyes again and smiled faintly, as if she knew something he didn’t, and that irritated him still further.  Wisewoman or not, he was not going to enter into her ridiculous barbarian mind games. He had more than enough to deal with as it was.

“I think, Centurion, that you will have cause to remember this day,” Mairead said. “And now, please, will you escort me back to the place where you found me?”

__________________________

Afterward, whenever he chanced to think about that first day at Cilurnum, Quentin felt disgusted with himself: it was ironic that, having come to Britannia to conquer Britons, he’d found himself unable to kill the first one he tripped over. In fact, so far from wanting to kill the man, he found himself going to the fort hospital the evening after his arrival to see how he was.

The veterans who were retiring from the army had departed the fort that morning, after a formal farewell from Jovius. The relief troops in the escort moved swiftly into their vacated barracks and were even now resting after the labors of transferring their equipment to the new quarters. 

Quentin, like all centurions, had a set of rooms to himself. Quentipor had taken himself off to the slaves’ bathhouse, having put everything away.

Making his way to the valetudinarium, Quentin reflected sourly that he had nothing better to do than visit wounded barbarians, having as yet been unable to find out whether he would be performing any extra duties. That morning, when he’d asked Jovius what they might be, that worthy snapped, “Ask Fronto, he knows,” and when he’d  asked Fronto what he was supposed to do, Fronto was abrupt. “I’m busy at the moment.  Ask me later.”

Suspecting that Fronto was hiding information from him simply to make him look bad in Jovius’ eyes, Quentin decided to consult the other centurions at the first opportunity and set up a duty roster for himself. But first he would see the barbarian and determine whether he  was fit to be questioned; if he was, Quentin intended to get the information  he needed to hold Conor mac Cailean to ransom.

In the hospital room he found an orderly spoon-feeding Conor, who was half-sitting up on the narrow bed, from a bowl of beef broth.

“Here, I’ll do that,” Quentin said.  “You take a break.”

“Sir.” The orderly obediently handed Quentin the bowl and spoon, stood up, and  went out of the room. Quentin sat on the low stool he’d vacated, dipped the spoon into the broth, and offered it to Conor. The man looked ten times better than he had the day before, and it wasn’t only that they’d cleaned  the mud, blood, and woad off him: they’d shaved off his moustaches, cut his hair—the same chestnut color as Astra’s  coat—and washed it. Although pale,  Conor was at least clean and presentable.

Actually, Quentin thought, dipping the spoon again and holding it to Conor’s mouth, more than presentable: he was good-looking enough to attract attention from lonely soldiers stationed far from home and far from thriving towns full of eligible women. Conor accepted the rest of broth, spoonful by spoonful, until Quentin finally laid bowl and spoon aside. Now he could find out what he wanted to know.

Conor looked at him sleepily and smiled. Quentin nodded, then leaned over him. “Where is your home?”

Conor looked at him blankly. Then, to Quentin’s surprise, he laid his head against Quentin’s chest and closed his eyes.

Annoyed, Quentin began, “I asked you, where—?”

But Conor’s eyes remained closed and his breathing slowed to the rhythm of that of one sleeping.

Nonplussed, Quentin stared at the sleeping barbarian. He wanted to ascertain the size of the Brigantian’s tribe, the number of its fighting members, and its approximate territory. Moreover, he wanted to know the extent of the tribe’s winter stores, if any, the number of horses it owned, and the size of its cattle herds. He particularly wanted to know if there were any Druid priests in the tribe; he’d heard that those worthies could be counted on to stir up trouble wherever there was none. And here the blasted prisoner was, fast asleep.

Or was he? His breathing was too regular, his head against Quentin’s chest too still. A real sleeper would sigh, shift his position, possibly even fall backward. The barbarian might well be shamming. 

Quentin considered.  If he pushed the Conor away he would fall backward and hit the pillow.  If he was really asleep, he’d be resentful at being woken up in such fashion; if merely pretending, he’d be resentful that his ruse had been discovered, and that wouldn’t make him any more cooperative. If he slapped him awake, the reaction would be the same.

He had to think of a way to make Conor end the pretense voluntarily. What, though?  Tickle him? That might work; on the other hand, Conor might simply make a restless movement, as a real sleeper might, and keep shamming. It had to be something really surprising, something that…aha!  Something he recalled from Sabinus’ stories about the tribesmen gave him an idea.

Gently, he eased Conor down until he was lying flat on the bed, with his head on the pillow. 

Then he ran his forefinger lightly across the barbarian’s lips.

Conor’s eyes flew wide open

“Why did you do that?” The barbarian’s Latin really was atrocious.

“To wake you up.  Now, tell me…”

Quentin questioned him for some time, but Conor gave only the sketchiest information. He appeared not to know how many were in his tribe, nor how many herds they had. He was uncertain as to the number of warriors and was vague as to the tribe’s portion of the Brigantian territories. On one matter, however, he was quite clear: the tribe had almost no stores. They were hungry, to the point where they were even killing the breeder cattle for food.

“And the Druids?”

Conor shrugged. “We have none of our own.”

Quentin suspected that Mairead the wisewoman was in league with the local Druids and decided to question her if he saw her again. Meanwhile, there was something he needed to tell the captive.

“You do realize, don’t you, that you’re a prisoner here?  We’re going to keep you until your tribe pays a ransom to get you back.”

Conor smiled, showing dimples at the corners of his lips. “In that case,” he drawled, still in that atrocious Brigantian accent, “you’d better put me to work. I’ll be here until I’m old. My tribe has nothing to pay a ransom with.”

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