Ehrik Jagermann breathed deeply, consciously calming his heartbeat, his experienced and instinctive brain calculating the distance to the target he had chosen, a Roman horseman whose helmet was adorned with a thick streamer of black horsehair. The rider was mounted on a fine, agile and quick footed grey horse. Steadily and evenly, the bow string, which was made of braided ox tendon, was pulled to its full extent causing the rawhide wrapped willow shaft to creak as tension was applied. The reddish blond-haired archer closed his left eye as if it were to fall asleep, his right eye remained open and seemed twice as observant, cutting sharp, quick and acute. He was adrift now on the battlefield, the carnage, screams and shouts, the desperate fights for life and bloody deaths of its participants were only a low hum which he tuned out completely. Ehrik’s world had confined itself to his bow, arrow and the target, which was the victim’s neck below the chin, his only concerns were the variables such as wind changes or the movement of horse and rider. He was in complete control of his body and had entered an almost trance like state. The wind although slight, had stopped and the target turned, instinctively the bowman adjusted, his curled fingers which had plucked the bow string released it and the missile streaked towards its target. Ehrik drew in a full breath as the calamity surged over him once more. Ullr and Skadi, God and Goddess of hunters and archers looked over him, his target slipped from the saddle to be trampled under the feet of wide-eyed horses.
The only thought that gave him comfort was that he was sure battle was imminent and they would get the opportunity to crush these filthy savages that his vaunted Centurion had such respect and fear for. Flavius was sure that Longinus’ continual ranting and excessive measures were born out of fear from the enemy. No other Centurion went through these pains and most, if not all, were at this spot and fought the barbarians previously. Legionary Flavius Vitalis was convinced he was under the command of a coward. No sooner had the thought entered his head when a hand clamped down on his shoulder and a face leaned toward his ear. “Get ready!” “It’s about to start.”
Centurion Jovian Vibius stopped in front of the crucified men as the patrol he was leading departed his secured area. The sun was clear of the Eastern horizon and its warmth could be felt. They were all dead now. He had no way of knowing, but he was sure the old warrior was the last to die. He had never seen men die so stoically on the cross before. Usually they beg, they cry, they scream, they always pray. These three prayed but nothing else. The spit still stained his handkerchief from the older one’s defiance. “What manner of people were these?” He pondered. “They decimated a Legion and destroyed a fort and these three warriors showed no weakness when crucified.” A chill ran down his back despite the heat from Sol as he imagined what facing these savages in open battle would be like. Despite them being the enemy Jovian had developed a great deal of respect for these Germanian warriors. His next words would be an order that contradicted that, “Leave them up to rot, make them an example.”
The Fourteenth Legion had been on the march from before the dew dried on the grass in the morning until the sun had peaked in the clear blue sky. They were reasonably safe in a secure portion of the conquered lands of the Republic. They were in Gaul and steadily marching North, closing the distance to Carnuntum. The ingenuity, intelligence and resourcefulness combined with the readily available manpower of slave labour was still evident in the cobbled sections of road they marched on and the stout bridges which afforded the easy crossing of streams, rivers and gorges. This would become less evident after they refitted and replenished their resources at the ever-growing military hub. After a short rest the Fourteenth Legion would depart Carnuntum but would then head West Northwest toward the unconquered frontier marching parallel to a great river which provided a natural border until the waterway turned Northward This river was to become known many centuries later as the Danube. This river left a gap between it and another great river that was to become known as the Rhine which also provided a natural border. It was in this gap that their new enemy waited. Not one man in the column understood the importance of these rivers or even the gap for that matter. In fact, the bones of the grandsons of their grandson’s would have returned to the earth on the battlefields they marched to before the importance of these rivers, the futility of this war and the ferociousness of their enemy would be realized.
There was much confusion inside the hollow square of the Fourth Century. Commands were delayed by Centurion Longinus relaying them to Optio Petronius through hand gestures and hard to understand vocal instructions. Adding to the confusion was the steady thumping of iron tipped arrows finding purchase in the shields of the legionaries. Occasionally an arrow would find a more valuable and fleshy mark, whether by skill or luck mattered not, it inflicted damage to them and that was the intention of the archers. The number of wounded rose but due to the tight shield formation, their armour and the hard discipline instilled in them the injuries were not as serious as they could have been. Fatalities were a result more of misfortune than design. Despite this the blood still flowed, the wounds still incapacitated those who received them. Fear had been replaced by a fatigued acceptance of their fate and all men in the Century resigned themselves to a bloody but noble end if it were to come to that or a painful and glorious victory. There would be nothing in between.