Quintus was tired of marching. It was one thing to tromp along a well-paved cobblestone road in the dry air of Italia or even Gaul, but quite another to push your way through a cool, damp forest so dense that sunlight did not reach you. From first awakening to the time he fell into his cot at night it was perpetual twilight. The birds had even stopped singing a few days ago. By Mithras, his feet hurt.
“Quintus! Over here, you goat lover.”
Quintus turned and saw a centurion waving him over. It was Flavius Attillo. A right nasty piece of work, he loved to stick it to the cohorts when he could.
“This ought to be good,” Quintus muttered as he slogged over to where Attilo stood. There were already several other legionnaires there as well. Looked like around a dozen of them. What was this about?
Quintus halted near the centurion and exchanged glances with several of the other men. They all shrugged or made some other sign of puzzlement. No one seemed to know what this was about.
“All right, turds, here is what I need you to do. Orders have come down the duct that there have been some sighting of barbarian activity in the vicinity of our column. As strung out as we are, we don’t need some mud caked chieftain deciding to prove himself by snatching a supply wagon or two, so we are dispatching small groups, like yourselves, to patrol along the column.”
More glances exchanged. Some shuffling of feet.
“I know, I know. You’re wondering why you’ve been chosen. To be honest it was completely random and you’re the winning hand so let’s make the best of it, shall we? Yes, what is it?”
One of the other men had twitched a hand up. Flavius looked at him in exasperation.
“Centurion, what exactly are we supposed to do?”
“You are to penetrate these woods and stay out of sight of the column, slinking around hoping to catch some barbarian turd unawares. Hopefully you can capture one of the pricks and bring them in for questioning. At the end of the day you can return to camp and sleep, but you are to be in the woods again before we begin the march. If you see anything too alarming, feel free to send someone to let me know. Any questions?”
There were none and they were dismissed to dispose of unnecessary weight. They would enter the dark forest with only their armor and gladii. They could bring rations as well. Within minutes the men were ready and they slipped into the trees.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ulaf watched as his men built a wall. They had been preparing this ambush for over a week. There was a long line of brush woven together with the ground cleared in front of it. In front of the wall was a pit of wooden spikes covered with loose brush. This was all set several hundred strides away from the track that the Romans were set to take, thanks to Arminius’ guiding them. Other men had been sent out to harass the Roman lines and inflame their martial spirit, so that when the time came the foreigners would be all too happy to chase their tormentors into the woods.
It wouldn’t be long now. They would secure their homes from the incursion of the Roman filth. Just a little longer….
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Quintus slipped into the brush in the pre-dawn murk. It had been three days with no sighting of the natives. He was beginning to think this was a waste of time. His compadres fell in along the line they were taking as they tried their best to move silently through the wood.
Quintus stopped and leaned back against a wide tree. The light was finally growing to the dim light that was the best this forest could muster, but at least he could see his own hands now.
He heard one of the other legionaries moving in close and he turned to greet them. Perhaps they had some news. What he saw instead was the painted face of a German. He opened his mouth to yell, but something slammed into his throat and he couldn’t make a sound. He saw a long piece of wood jutting out beneath his chin and felt warmth rush down his chest. It was his blood.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ulaf watched the light leave the Romans’ eyes. Pulling the spear out of the man’s throat, he wiped the point off one the man’s tunic, then searched the Roman for anything of value. Ulaf stripped the armor off and tried it on. It was a fair fit. He would keep it. He also would keep the Roman gladius. He already had one but he could always trade it. There was also some food in the Roman’s pouch and a canteen.
Ulaf listened and heard the bird call that signaled the “all clear”. So his men had managed to overtake the entire patrol, then. Good. It wouldn’t be long now.