Inspired by: Eagle of the Ninth
Previous chapters :
Long road to Calleva 1: The Fall of Cunoval
Long road to Calleva 2: Different Kinds of Chains
Long road to Calleva 3: Winter in Deva
Long road to Calleva 4 : Watling Street
Long road to Calleva 5 : Golden apples and endings of the road
The Druids have a word for it : deathcalled: the word for one who faces his death and knows it, and must embrace it willingly at the last, like a lover.
And now Esca, hound of the Brigantes, is deathcalled, last of his people, and he faces his death in the sight of all the gods under the open sky, and oh, but life is calling him too, in the roaring of his blood and and the heaving of his lungs.
All around him in the stands, the crowd calls out for death, but he does not hear. All he hears is Death and she is calling to him, and he is so afraid: afraid as no warrior should be afraid of Death, and yet, he is.
And now, suddenly a different voice is calling. A man, an enemy, is standing and he calls out, in a great voice that Esca can hear, even over the voice of Death: he calls: "LIFE!"
And Death hears him, bright and terrible and queenly as she is, and she smiles at Esca as he meets the eyes of his enemy, and sees there, life.
And she steps aside. Esca lives.
Later, goaty Stephanos leads him through the quiet evening streets of Calleva, while Esca wonders if it's time to run, if he is free at last of loyalties and duties and chains enough that he can be gone, alone into the wild places beyond the frontiers of Empire, with nothing to hold him back save Stephanos and Roman law, which is to say, nothing.
But Esca is not a wild wolf, he's not made to run and hide and snarl, with all men's hands turned against him, not made to flee to the uttermost corners of the earth. Esca was born and raised in a Roman province.
And the part of him that is still a warrior is thinking now: maybe there's still a duty here, a debt to be paid.
He has no sword or spear, any more, but he has the slender knife, tucked in his tunic, precious as a thing living and beloved.
And so, like a warrior swearing fealty, proudly, in bitterness and sorrow and unwanted gratitude, and remembering his fear in that moment before Death stepped aside, he gives the knife to the man who is now his lord.
"I am the Centurion's hound, to lie at the Centurion's feet" Esca says.