Title: Britannia et Panem
Fandom: Hunger Games
Chapter Rating: T
Chapter Summary: When the Romans conquered their land, Katell never thought it would be a Roman who saved her. She returned the favor by almost killing him.
Author's Note: This first chapter was originally written for day three of the Prompts in Panem AU event, where the prompt asked you to write about Everlark during war. This will be a multi-chapter fic.
Britannia et Panem
His companion is dead before Gael ever leaps the ditch as quick as a red deer. He's speared through the throat, his eyes gaping open unseeing into the grey sky, but the other one is badly injured yet still alive. He fights. He struggles mightily against Gael, almost managing to throw him on his back. He's strong enough that uninjured Gael might not stand a chance. But we've performed our task too well, crippled him just enough. There are things the Romans have that we don't that make our struggles feel hopeless, but we're skilled in guerilla tactics that these Romans are never quite prepared for, and Gael gains the upper hand.
"He's good with a knife," Gael calls, flashing a bleeding forearm, just a scratch, as he pulls the fallen Roman we've speared through the thigh over the ditch, where Jowanet crouches with her iron axe and I with my spear.
Gael could cut him there on the road, but he might mean to take the man's head as a trophy. Gael pulls the man's head back by the hair, and he stops kicking, because any movement would only help Gael finish the job.
I see the man's face, his teeth clenched in pain or fury, and my first thought is to scorn the gods.
I would know him anywhere. He saved me once.
Before they started building the stone and turf wall the Romans call the Antonine Wall, we thought we were safe. After three generations of my people had lived through Roman invasion, war, and conquest the Romans no longer troubled us. We were north of Hadrian's Wall, constructed in response to a failed rebellious uprising, and after the stone wall rose, they seemed content to stay south and collect tribute from those that sought to pass through, controlling the flow of goods and people from one region to another in a show of their boundless power. The only thing that need concern my family was the southward push of our wild northern neighbors and the drive to fill our bellies with a successful harvest. That's the way it had been for eons, so the Druids, keepers of our past, told us.
Safe. That's something only children believe in.
Romans must want to cover the world in roads and forts, for they're never satisfied with what they have, and their gods must be lucky, for they very rarely can be stopped in getting what they want. The invasion was quick. Three legions of their heavily armored men moved like a millipede across the land from Coria south of the wall towards the Firth of Forth along the Roman military road, throwing up their forts to keep watch over the northern free remnant of the Brigantes and the lowlanders, the Selgovae, Damnonii, Novantae, and my people, the Votadini.
The war took my da and half the men from our hillfort settlement before two harvests were brought out of the fields. The Druids teach us that when one dies, the spirit does not, but comes again with new birth. Little good some squalling infant would have done my family: we needed my da. It might as well have taken my mà as well, for she was left present only in body, not in spirit. With a sister not old enough to throw a spear and no brothers, we were close to starving as the winter after Da's passing ebbed.
My people were forced to accept an unequal alliance with the Romans, which spares our land from being dotted with forts the way some of the more southern tribes' lands are. We're a buffer between them and the people they fear more than us: the Caldonians who rush into battle smeared in woad. The Romans use us and remain close enough that we know we are not free and aren't like to ever be free again.
Near the most eastern point of the wall at the terminus of the Roman road lies a stone fort and settlement with two marching camps they call Veluniate. It's well supplied with grain—more grain than they need and grain that I knew could save our starving family. After my da died and we had nothing left of our winter stores, I made the two day trek to the Roman settlement. It was not my intention to come begging. I am proud. Proud of my family, my settlement, and my people. I brought cloth woven by my mà for trade, but the soldiers cared nothing for my homespun offerings, and I found myself outside their market, trembling from exhaustion and despair. I would have to let my family die or I would have to offer something else to these Romans.
My body. I knew other women who had done it. When Jowanet still had a family to save, she made use of what she had for Roman food or Roman coin. Only, I couldn't make myself move towards any of them, couldn't make myself unwind my furs from around my shoulders to expose the tan of my skin to their glares.
He was standing guard by a loaded wagon, watching me, as I slumped against a wood support. He looked like all the rest—strangely smooth faced and broad of chest—but he looked back at me not with the usual scorn. I couldn't read what was in his eyes, but perhaps he was kinder than the rest. Better him than the older man with the rancid breath, who had shouldered me out of the way, when I held up Mà's handiwork.
But he didn't take from me. He gave. Assigned to guard the wagon, the Roman soldier with yellow hair loaded my arms with a sack full of grain instead.
Gael's hand is on the handle of his knife, his knuckles white, ready to hack the Roman's head from his neck. I dart forward and grab it, holding it fast, preventing him from following through.
I would scream for him to stop—a scream threatens to tear from my throat—but there are likely to be other Romans nearby, patrolling the road. Their presence is what has drawn us here, eager to commit an act of rebellion. Gael wants nothing to do with an alliance. Rebellion burns in his blood, and he means to drive the Romans south or kill every last one of them
Not this one.
Usually Gael understands me. There is usually no need for words between us—a useful thing in hunting partners and resistance fighters—but I can see by the narrowing of his eyes that my restraining grip on him has lost him. "We'll take him with us."
I can feel the Roman's blue eyes on me, but I stare back at Gael, willing him not to move the knife across the man's throat.
"For ransom?" Jowanet asks, fingering her axe at her side. I'm thankful she's given me a reason, because I'm terrible at lying. I latch on to it, nodding my head. "He's like to die, Kat." She indicates his bleeding thigh with the head of her axe. His woolen trousers are slashed open. Where the spear sliced through him the edges are soaked in his blood.
"I'll fix him." I don't have the skill that my mà and sister have in herbs and arts, but I know enough to keep him alive. I think.
Gael growls. I know this isn't what he planned, when he attacked the pair of Roman soldiers. There's no good reason for him to listen to me: he's older, more seasoned, and a man, but Gael respects me. We've hunted together, fought together, and he trusts me.
That doesn't stop me from being surprised when he pulls back, tucking his knife away. "I'm not carrying him."
Either Gael kills him now or he dies here slowly, bleeding into the earth. The only chance the Roman has is to stay with me until he's some healed. "Don't fight me," I say to the Roman, but it goes for Gael as well, who still eyes like Roman like he'd like to spill more foreign blood. I push Gael away, kneeling down alongside the wounded man. "You can walk, can't you?" I ask, looking down into his pale face. I don't give him the chance to answer.
"Tie his arms," Gael insists.
"No. He wouldn't be able to walk in his condition. I'll watch him." He's weak. Weaker than I thought. There's little chance he'll fight me or try to run.
"Make sure you do."
I scowl back at Gael, while Jowanet smirks at the both of us. I slip my arm under the Roman, tugging him upright. He's heavy with more muscle than the men in our village ever manage to build.
"What are you doing?" the Roman finally asks, as he leans into me, letting me support his weight.
"It's all right. I'm not going to leave you."
As the night grows dark and the embers of the fire die out, I check his wound. There's no debris and it isn't yet showing signs of infection. He hisses with the pain as I tug at the wrapping, pulling it tight. My touch isn't as gentle as my mà's, but that's no surprise—I have no practice or patience in gentleness. My skill will have to be enough. The wound will need to be rewrapped when the sun rises in the morning, but for now it will keep. There's an herb I need that would help with the pain some, but I haven't come across it yet, as we slowly make our way back from the Roman road.
His fevered eyes don't leave mine, as I tuck and pull at his shredded trousers. I can feel them on me no matter where I look.
His voice is raspy and thin with pain, but low enough that they might not have heard him. I glance over at Gael and Jowanet's silhouetted forms, checking to see if there are two pairs of eyes on me. I don't want them to hear me talking with our prisoner, but they seem to be asleep.
"Here," I say, wetting his lips with the skin I carry at my side. "Open." His cracked lips part and water trickles between them. He finishes and I drink from it as well, wiping the spilled drops off my chin with the heel of my hand, as I finish.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Taking Romans prisoner?"
I look away. It's a good question. One Gael would like an answer to, no doubt. "To pay my debt. I remember you. The grain."
He exhales heavily. "I should have given you more. Your arms looked as thin as bird bones."
My cheeks heat. He remembers too. I didn't expect that. Suddenly the looks he's been giving me make more sense. He remembers me at my lowest, weakest point, and there's something about that I don't like, even though I owe him my life. I don't like to be thought of as needy.
"It was enough." More than anyone else would have given a dirty little Votadini girl. It saved me, my sister, my mà , it saved me from having to give myself to one of these conquering Romans, and it gave me hope.
I should thank him, but I'm not good with words, not even the words of my own tongue, which he knows surprisingly better than most. There's only a strange drag on the words when they leave his mouth, like his tongue is too thick, drunk on mead. That might only be the effects of the fever.
"I know your settlement," he says, as I throw his red woolen cape, which is muddied from our trek, over his legs. It could be colder, but in his condition he'll freeze faster than the rest of us. "I've been there."
I wrap my arms around my legs, pulling them tight to my chest. "You're feverish." Talking nonsense. Romans come to our hillfort, because they find their way all over. They crawl over the earth like ants, but we're all just a sea of dark faces to them, one barbarian undistinguishable from the next.
"And you bring meat and skins to trade at market. Sheep. Your family has sheep."
We didn't always, but after he gave me the grain, I worked a trade for a pair of sheep. We have a few now, good for wool, good for eating, and my sister tends them. It's made such a difference in our life, but I don't know how he can know this without seeing it for himself.
I purse my lips. I know he's kind, but why has this Roman made a practice of noticing me? "We have to eat, do something to survive."
"You look better. Not so thin." I can see him swallow beneath the undyed linen tied around his neck. "I've never seen another woman like you."
"Half my settlement looks just the same as me," I say with a sigh. I hope these feverish comments don't mean that rot has already set in. It was red, but didn't stink. I thought he was all right.
"You really have no idea, do you?" he asks, staring up at the starless sky, but it's a question that clearly doesn't need an answer, and I'm more comfortable with silence.
I listen to the sounds around me. The pop of the last dying gasp of the fire. The chirp of insects. The wind in the tallest tree.
He breaks the silence at last, when I assume he's slipped into sleep. "I'm going to die." He sounds mostly resigned, only a little frightened. It could be that his gods are as good to his people in the afterlife as they are to them in this one. Then there wouldn't be much to fear.
But, I don't want him to die. I thought I wanted all Romans dead, but he saved me. I want to do the same for him. Discharge my debt.
Gael will be angry with me for moons. I know he thinks we're taking an unnecessary chance, and normally I'd agree. Killing Romans, not ransoming them, is his chosen method of rebellion. It's usually mine as well.
"I didn't go to all this trouble to have you die," I mutter.
"I'll mention that to Charon," he says with a smile. It's a good smile. A little crooked over a mouthful of perfect teeth. It's the sort of smile that probably makes women eager to peel off his tunic.
I'm not that kind of woman.
I toe the dirt with my boot. "Who's Charon?"
"Someone you don't want to meet."
It sounds like a joke, but either he's not as good in our tongue as I thought or the fever has muddled his mind, because he makes no sense at all.
"If I'm going to die, I'd like to know your name."
"You're not going to die," I insist again, but after a long moment, where I rub my calloused hands over the shins of my trousers, I give in to his request. "Katell."
"They call you Kat."
"What does it mean?"
Pure. Jowanet teases me about that when the mood strikes her. I'm not telling him that, so I ignore his question.
"Go ahead. Tell me your name. Otherwise I'll just keep thinking of you as Roman." I spit the last word with almost as much venom as Gael ever does.
"Well, I don't want that. I'm Peete, Second Augustan Legion."
I know something of his legion. The Second Legion built the wall that traps us inside the Roman's empire. We can thank Quintus Lollius Urbicus for taking our land and driving us further north. His name and the Second Legion's are etched upon the plaques on the wall. The letters are nonsense to someone like Gael, but my mà taught me how to recognize the letters by drawing them in the dirt with a stick.
She's one of them.
"Peete." I test the name aloud. "Doesn't sound Roman."
Peete has the smooth face—though it will be stubbled by morning—and broadness of many of the Romans, but his yellow hair and blue eyes are not like the others. He looks more like my mà. Her people were from across the sea. Maybe Peete's people are too. Gael says all Romans are the same, but he doesn't mean my mà. She's one of us, she chose my da. Maybe Peete is like my mà—not Roman by blood, but born in their sprawling empire, an empire that will one day consume the earth like a plague of locusts. I hate the Romans as much as Gael does, I want to fight them and drive them from our lands, but they can't all be the same.
"You're a long way from home, Peete. You should go back." I say it more softly than Gael would.
"I can't. There's no home to go back to."
His eyes shut, and he must drift off to sleep. It's better that way. We shouldn't have been talking in the first place. I can't afford to get attached to this strange foreigner the way my sister gets attached to wounded animals.
I'm supposed to be on watch, but I look at all the wrong things. I find myself staring at his long pale lashes and the locks of yellow hair stuck to his forehead. The color is natural, not the bright white of Jowanet's, the color stripped from the lime she uses to spike it before going into battle. I brush the sweaty hair off his brow. It's soft too. Not hard like Gael's, caked with clay and slicked back like a horse's mane. The Romans bathe obsessively, fouling our sacred waters in their need to constantly wash their bodies. A bath house went up right alongside the fort at Veluniate, because they place cleanliness above almost anything else. It's a strange practice, but it does make their hair as soft as a babe's.
He must think my black braided hair very unremarkable in comparison. I pull back my hand from where it has rested on his brow and work at the leather tie that holds my braid in place. Unknotting it, I work my fingers through the tangled gnarls, picking out any leaf debris I've gathered from sleeping on the ground. I'll just rebraid it when I'm finished, but it will be smoother, less wild looking, more like the Roman women with their long shiny hair hanging in ropes down their backs.
I finish and shift, folding my legs beneath me, and the movement makes his eyes crack open.
"You need to rest."
"I thought you were gone," he mumbles, the words thicker than ever.
The leather tie is plenty tight, but I fidget with it. "I'm here." It would be better for him if we'd never met again, but he seems relieved. "I'm not going anywhere."
The names are not misspelled. They are the appropriate sounding equivalents, depending on the character's place of origin and the era.
Peete was patrolling the Roman road between the Romans forts Oxton and Trimontium.
The Antonine Wall was constructed in 12 years and was begun in 142 due to pressure from the Caledonians. The wall was built of turf and stone and was 39 miles long. It was guarded by 16 forts and additional fortlets.
Animal husbandry, including the keeping of sheep, was common among the people of northern Romano-Britain.
In Roman mythology, Charon ferried newly dead souls across the river to Hades.
For general readers, these are good books on Romano-Britain:
History of Roman Britain, Peter Salway
Roman Britain: A New History, Patricia Southern
Roman Britain: A New History, Guy de la Bedoyere