Chapter 4

"Father no!" I watched as he raised the knife to my mother's throat, she turned to me, catching my glance in her watering blue eyes.
"Shush." She put a finger to her lips and then turned back to my father. I watched as her slit her throat. I didn't allow myself to cry, instead I focused my grief into blind rage, and ran outside to the barricades.
"Esca, where's father?" My only sister ran into my path,
"Inside with mother, wait with me. He'll come soon." She nodded, then she got a good look at my pale face.
"What's wrong?" I couldn't bring myself to say anything, and she knew better than to push, so she just threw her arms around me. "I love you brother." I just managed not to break down, instead I gently pushed her away, holding onto her shoulders and looking right into her eyes.

"Promise me you'll die rather than let them take you." She nodded.
"I'll fight to the death, alongside you and my brothers." I smiled at her,
"I know you will." A cousin ran up to us,
"They're coming! They're coming!"
"Go and tell father." He ran off, me and my sister stood together, waiting for the end.

The end for me never came. I was still fighting amongst a sea of my dead friends and allies, when someone behind me struck me over the head with a shield. I was knocked to the ground, unconscious. I awoke in a foreign place, with many other captured Britons. Roman soldiers guarded us, I called out to them. "Kill us. Kill us you cowards!" Others took up the call, and we were all screaming;
"Kill us! Kill us!"

"Hold him, careful he'll hurt himself." Romans were pinning me down, I struggled hard, someone had me by the shoulders. "Esca, calm down, it's me, it's Marcus." I know Marcus, don't I? I can't focus, I just want them to get off me. "Leave him alone." Another voice joins in the fray, "You ought to let him go, he needs space!" Anwen. They move back, allowing Anwen to come closer. She slips an arm around me, holding me gently, I look at her. "What happened?" She just shakes her head, and murmurs quietly,
"It doesn't matter now. Shush." I lean against her, resting my head on her shoulder. Through the layers of wool she wears, I can feel the gentle thud of her heart.

"Come on Uncle, let's leave them. We should all try and rest." Aquila and Stephanos follow Marcus to bed, I am dimly aware that there will be repercussions from this in the morning, but right now I'm too drained to worry. Anwen whispers to me in Gaelic, she asks me nothing, just speaks quietly, and I find myself drifting on the musicality of her voice. The words are not important, it's the feeling behind them that comforts me.

Questions come in the morning, I awake first and steal quietly to Marcus, who is trying to start a fire. I watch his efforts for over a minute, then take the flint away and do it myself. "Sharply; one strike, two strikes, quick like lightning. Even when you get sparks, you keep going; one strike two strikes quick like lightning." The flames leapt up, catching the kindling he'd already placed there. "My cousin taught me that chant, me and my brothers would hunt with him and the older boys sometimes." I pause, but Marcus doesn't speak, which is much more effective in making me talk. "Last night I dreamt about the battle, the last battle we fought in together. Already we had lost many, two of my brothers were dead, but me, my sister and my youngest brother had survived. I was the only one who survived that last battle. I've told you what my father did to my mother, so she would not be captured. I told my sister to do the same, die rather than live a slave. We all prayed for death over capture, the women most of all."

Marcus had listened in silence, but he spoke now. "So that's why you kept An's secret from us, Roman responsibility?"
"Not exactly, it was our fault as well, we were the men, we should have been able to protect them, but we failed our sacred duty. I couldn't betray her trust as well."
"What about our trust? Me and my uncle? Could you not have told us privately." I stand, suddenly angry again.
"What about Stephanos? Have I not broken his trust as well? No, I haven't, because he's a slave, how could he possibly feel betrayed? Damn it Marcus, my loyalty is to my fellow Britons over Romans who still think of themselves as masters!" Marcus stood up, but before he could reach out, either to comfort or hit me, I had started running. The ground flows beneath me, the trees flies past me, and I'm away from everything. I came to halt probably a mile out from the camp, and just scream. I scream the in the name of everyone I lost, until my throat burns along with my eyes. I collapse against a tree, letting the familiar feelings of rough bark bring me back to the world.

I walk back to the camp slowly, to hear Anwen snap at Marcus. "I've got it Marcus, thank you. I know I'm a woman, but I'm the same person you were piling saddle bags onto yesterday." He takes a step away, hands up in defence, and she pulls the saddle up herself. I'm close before they realise I'm back. Anwen smiles, and Marcus looks around. "You're back."
"Where did you go?"
"Nowhere, I just needed to think, alone."
"Don't run off again." It's as close to him saying, I was worried as I can expect. The elder Aquila doesn't say anything, neither does Stephanos, but they both look displeased. I ignore them, and go to pack my things away, only to discover Marcus has already done it. I look over at him, and he shrugs.