Roman horses smell more of their kind across this narrowest portion of the mighty Tamesa.
A timber barrier towers on the opposite hillock, yet no archer stands on the banquette, just an elderly man favoring a staff, his long white hair flapping in the wind. Rumors whisper he’s the oldest druid alive, and his gnarled fingers and craggy mug lend truth to this claim.
“This is as far as you go, Rome!” The archdruid’s grasp of Latin impresses Caesar, but his following words confuse his compatriots. “I do have an offer for you,”
Flaming heads rise along the wall, their masks swiveling in confusion.
“Negotiation is a most honorable path,” Caesar yells back.
“My loyalists will depart this fight,” says Ostin the Ageless, eliciting angry howls from warriors knowledgeable of the Roman tongue. “But in return, I want The Lion brought to me in ropes.”
Laughter ripples among the legionnaires.
“I might fulfill that condition,” says Caesar with a grin. “If you’re inclined to hand over The Owl and his mother.”
Hisses fill the air as angry hands yank the old man down.
“They can’t say you didn’t try,” Labenius whispers.
Tension weighs upon the air yet lifts the finest hairs of an arm. Caesar raises a hand and lets it fall, a signal to his fiercest cohort, the Seventh, to march on the water.
Gauls from the continent swell their ranks as prisoners fighting for their captors, a tradition older than the Roman war machine; the desire to live outweighs a defeated man’s bitterness.
Brittonic hostages sit idle at the camp, their highest ranking manlet given exclusion for revealing the river’s unseen defenses: an array of deadly stakes just below the waterline, their sharp tips made to gouge a horse’s belly.
Infantrymen standing shoulder to shoulder raise their shields and form the testudo, a grander version of the formation employed at Stour. They advance under their shields, but the inches come little by little as engineers trawl through the shallows, pulling up stakes.
The turtle shell reaches the river’s midway, drawing a shout from within that flattens its tented top. Swordsmen rush the leveled surface, and that’s when Brittonic archers appear along the wall and rain bolts onto the legionnaires.
A shout reverberates behind the barrier, ordering the bowmen to ignore the advancing swords and focus on the shieldmen. Within moments, the shields become an unassailable bridge of needles, halting a third wave of swordsmen.
Roman lancers stomp into the shallows and hurl their spears, taking three for every five archers whose replacements lack their fallen comrade’s accuracy.
Suddenly, a pair of scaffolds rise like boxy sentries behind the newcomers.
Slingers climb the birch bones, following their masked leader, an agile man with a youthful body whose shout reveals the man who ordered the bowmen to attack the shields. A skeleton covers his nakedness both in front and behind while his wicker crown burns. He is the Owl King, a druid who haunts many a legionnaire.
His sling-stone set, he spins its flax thong until a discus floats beside him, and when the swirling circle hovers above his flaming head, a stone fires from it with a flick of an arm. It strikes the first lancer, denting the man’s thin iron mask. Blood spits from the eye holes as the soldier’s legs buckle.
Each toss takes its toll upon the lancers, returning momentum to the archers. His last stone spent, the gaunt druid crawls like a spider up the scaffold, his long arms and longer legs moving from one slinger to the next, his words directing stones to the knees of the shieldmen.
The one he calls Bitch Face sees the stratagem and waits to aim.
The testudo’s front suddenly collapses, exposing the men pulling up stakes. Hanging from his platform like a bat, the Owl directs the incoming spearmen to the scene. Thick javelins glide in low, and their fat, sharpened tips come dangerously close to the stake-pullers.
Dread seizes Caesar’s guts; young Planus leads those in the water. A command travels down the line, legate to legate until it finds a decurio named Titus. The dark-skinned commander orders his horse-bound archers to ignite their tips.
Fire rains upon the scaffold’s bitch brackets, culling most of the slingers before flames spread along the platform. The Owl takes flight, leaping onto the banquette, where his attention fixes upon something below.
Such a sight worries Caesar, for when the Owl fixates, he’s thinking, and Romans die when the Owl has time to think. It takes a moment for the skeleton-clad monster to formulate a plan, and when he does, he vanishes behind his side of the wall.
Many moments pass before smoke engulfs the second scaffold. Its birch-stick bones immolate, and the tower teeters. A warning cry sends the Brittonic archers running before the burning rostrum topples. It breaks on the wall, its fiery top spilling onto the rampart below.
A lethal smolder billows into the Roman shieldmen, collapsing their formation as many men choke.
The son of Vitus Servius enters the fray, plodding into the shallows wearing nothing but a lion head fleece, a loin cloth, and boots. Calmly, he shepherds in shieldmen to replace those struggling, and the orderly exchange convinces Caesar that bloodlust hasn’t consumed his dead friend’s son despite his recent savagery.
Skipio liberates an unconscious Planus from the water, slinging him onto his horse before slapping her rump to hasten her away. Actus and others follow suit, taking the fallen to safer ground so their replacements can protect the men beneath them.
Ever watchful, the Owl hops from one brawny shoulder to another until he reaches his leader, Cassibelanus. The hulking warlord stands along the banquette, doing little except observing. Hot words spill from the druid, his arms moving as he yells.
Cassibelanus listens coldly until the Roman tortoise sheds its shell.
Shields return to their proper place, and swords emerge as the infantry collides with the barrier wall. Roman shields and bodies form stairs, compelling the warlord to scramble toward them with his fiercest following.
Swords clang along the smoldering banquette as the Brittonic defenders give everything to stop the climbing legionnaires, but eventually, a Roman gets his rope looped around a wall plank. Soon, another does the same, and then four more.
Hatchet in hand, the Owl cuts one and a second, but he cannot get his leader’s men to stop stabbing at Roman helmets long enough to sever the others. Stakes by the hundreds drift downriver as Roman horsemen splash over it without hindrance.
Among the infantry come six heavy-hooved beasts bred to pull. The Owl slings rocks with ruthless aim, striking one and sending it back across the river, but there’s no time to stop their handlers from securing ropes around their necks.
The thick-hoof horses charge back out of the water, yanking at ropes strewn about the wall’s anchor posts. Resistance pulls them up on two legs, but they soon regain their footing and plow onward, dislodging a section of their barrier.
Fractures grow, their noisy cracks lost amidst a din of sword strikes and profanity. A portion of the banquette wobbles like a loose tooth. Within moments, an entire section breaks free and races across the water.
Roman footmen mass through the opening and unite with Celts in a deadly ball of stabbing spears and swinging swords. Never one to hurry, the Lion marches into the melee with a spatha in each hand. He cuts through the painted mob with abandon, leaving limbs and entrails in his wake.
A flaming net flies through the smoke and lands upon the Roman mob. Thick with whale oil, the burning ropes ignite tunics and sear helmet combs. Skipio watches another blazing web descend, his burns throbbing as it blankets a trio of horsemen.
Beasts buck when their hides taste fire, shedding their riders before fleeing to the river. Skipio buries his fear and uses his sword to shish the flaming cords and toss them to another part of the yard.
Through the smoke, he spots the Owl and a clutch of rotund women. Together, they stretch the next net, and after touching his torch to it, the druid joins in their strange dance to send it skyward.
Skipio whistles for his beast, Luna, and she gallops past to collect him. They barge into the women and find the druid no longer with them. Each matron puts up a wicked fight, and his reputation for mercy to their gender proves false when he stabs each one through the chest.
Screams from the river signal that Hanni joins the fight. She lets loose a mighty trumpet, her compact trunk a dexterous hammer that sweeps away all those in her path. Armor plates protect her gray hide, and a tower manned by four archers sits atop her broad back.
She is the largest horse the Brittonic beasts have ever seen, and each step she takes rattles the mud beneath their hooves. Shedding their riders, the native horses run for the trees, leaving the pachyderm to punch out another section of the wall.
“It’s just an elephant, you cowardly cunts!” Removing his mask and flaming headpiece, the druid seethes at his fleeing brethren. “Hannibal brought hundreds to conquer Rome, and now Rome conquers us with one!”
Skipio hears his words and, though he cannot understand them, admires the skull drawn on his bony face.
A spear flies at the druid’s back, but the spry bastard flips high and back, avoiding the strike. He twists around with lightning speed and hurls an axe. It strikes the lancer, splitting his faceplate into two and dividing his skull.
Castor appears alongside Skipio, growling as he readies his lance for a toss.
Suddenly, the agile druid crosses the blood-soaked mud, snatching up a hand-scythe from a fallen comrade before vaulting onto a stable portion of the wall. The sheer gall of any man brave enough to hurl himself at a battle elephant stirs Skipio’s loins.
The lissome Owl lands on the golden plate between Hanni’s eyes and scrambles up her forehead to the tower’s parapet. His curved blade cuts a line beneath an archer’s chin, catching the pair’s attention nearby. Each aims, forcing him to use his victim as a shield.
After bolts riddle the man’s corpse, he rams him at his attackers, sending them over the bulwark. Before the Owl’s blade finds the final archer, a legionnaire with the narrowest eyes falls into the box. Without a preamble, he lunges, forcing the Owl to jump sideways.
The curl of his sickle hooks a beam, and he uses it to swing his lithe body around and strike the swordsman’s chin with his foot. He swings around again and catches the final archer’s head between his feet. He swiftly snaps the man’s neck with a toe under the chin and his foot sole to a cheek.
Tight quarters do not suit Reed Eyes, and when a sloppy chop exposes his back, the Owl stabs the hand scythe’s pointed tip into the nape of his neck. The piercing pain brings forth a scream, and before the metal retreats, it hooks into his armor collar and yanks it free.
Given a canvas of tunic-covered flesh, the Owl rips a line across Reed Eyes’ shoulder blades. The Roman swordsman falls to his knees, but before the Owl can slice his neck, a muscular hand finds his chest and shoves him.
Much taller within spitting distance, the Lion’s body glows with sweat and blood. Ignoring the splinters in his ass, the druid stands, his eyes taking in the Lion’s corded pelvic folds, his firm thighs, and those two dark nipples eager for a wet cockhead.
Raw burns cover the skin over his left tit and upper arm, and the Owl takes immense pride in putting them there. Mossy greens flash before the Lion drives his swords into the flanking parapet, yet danger prevails even with this handsome adversary disarmed.
The Lion’s uneven nostrils flare when the druid tosses aside his hand scythe, and the lump centering the strong man’s neck like a third testicle jumps when he lets slip a laugh.
“Don’t be shy, Ay-dawn,” says Skipio in Greek.
The druid’s dark eyes glow at the sound of his name.
Little fists rise in a sparring stance, and Skipio invites him with a raised hand by wiggling two curled fingers. The skinny druid moves his balled-up hands in little circles, and when sure his moving fists have caught his opponent’s attention, he kicks—and misses due to the fist colliding with his mouth.
Agony pulses through his jaw as his back strikes the parapet. Sitting up, blood from his split lip lands upon his teat, and he drags a finger over it, collecting a slimy dollop before fixing his eyes on the Lion and bringing the digit to his mouth for a suck.
“If you’re hungry,” Skipio leers, grabbing himself through his loin cloth. “I got something for you to gnaw upon,”
The Owl delivers the most malicious glare in his arsenal.
“That look, right there,” says Skipio. “I want to see that when I unload on your face.”
♡ The Owl has never heard something so romantic. ♡
The elephant stops moving. The battle carnyx falls silent.
There are no gods and no tribes. No Rome. No Tamesa.
Only he and the Lion are there—until a spear strikes the ground between them.
“Kill him,” Bitch Face joins them, bringing a beefy centurion.
Skipio stands back, giving the pretty Roman and his thug some room.
‘Honestly?’ The Owl’s eyes demand, and the gorgeous brute shrugs.
The hulking centurion reaches for him, but the Owl catches his arm and breaks it in half with a bony knee before tumbling over the ledge with his victim. The oaf’s corpse softens his landing in the shallows, where a spatha in the mud calls.
The druid grabs the sword and straddles the unconscious man’s chest. Anger courses through his heart as he hacks the man’s neck. It takes many furious swings to sever the head, like axing a grounded tree root.
“He’s so fierce,” says a smitten Skipio.
“That wiry scumbag,” Castor stares in disbelief. “Killed your father,”
“My father killed his,” counters Skipio.
“He killed Drusus,” Castor cries. “He must die,”
Skipio purses his lips as if unsure.
“What version of Psyche runs foul within you?” Castor demands.
Skipio cannot answer. Instead, he vaults over the tower’s side.
The druid spots him falling, the loincloth stuck to his taut stomach, exposing his flaccid third arm.
“You stringy fuck,” Bitch Face snarls in his language, falling after him.
The Owl splashes over the mudbank, severed head in hand, and vanishes into the only fighting mob left. With a single hand, he vaults off a horse’s back, his long feet making lily pads of Roman shoulders until he’s clear of the fight.
Safe upon the grass, the Owl gives the crumbling hillock one last glance as fortress walls collapse. The strapping Lion strolls into view, Reed Eyes beside him, and Bitch Face stalking forward with a spear.
The druid begins tugging at his cock.
“Keep it out so I can cut it off and choke you with it,” cries Bitch Face, dropping his lance before closing the space between them.
The Owl brings the centurion’s head to his erection and stabs it into its slimy mouth. Bitch-Face slows, his delicate features twisting in glorious revulsion.
Laughter erupts from the Lion, a bold smile that shines like the sun, while Reed Eyes steps back as if about to vomit.
A great warmth swells within the druid upon seeing the brutal beauty smile. He pulls out the corpse’s mouth, his arousal bouncing as he strikes Bitch Face across the head with it.
Skipio retrieves his former lover’s discarded lance.
“Give me that piece of the fire crotch,” he says to Actus, tying the tartan strip given to him to the lance’s staff.
The Owl stands sure as the spear flies toward him, and when it impales the head in his hand, tearing it free from his grasp and pinning it to the ground, his cock spits onto the hair of the unconscious Bitch Face.