SUMMARY: There are stranger, more dangerous things in lurking in the mists of Caledonia than Marcus or Esca ever imagined. If they are to find the Eagle, they must first survive the terrible lizards, which will not be so easy if they cannot trust each other. Book/movie fusion, gen.
CANON: Movie/book fusion
RATING: T for dinosaur fights and death of a horse.
NOTES: Written for the Eagle Reverse Big Bang on Livejournal, inspired by Motetus's fantastic illustration of Marcus and Esca versus raptors. The story can also be found at my Archive of Our Own account, as can Motetus's fabulous illustration.
Please ignore dodgy geography and questionable biology—this is Magical Dinosaur Scotland! I also took a pretty liberal approach to both canons, as the plot demanded.
Many thanks to Trojie and osprey_archer for the stellar beta work, and to Isis, Motetus, osprey_archer, Sineala, and probably a bunch of other people for brainstorming and archosaur-naming help, and for putting up with me whining about this story for almost three months.
I am only posting some of my fanfiction to this site, due to FFN's content restrictions; the rest can be found at archiveofourown DOT org SLASH users SLASH Carmarthen. Also, if anyone here is looking for more Eagle or Eagle of the Ninth fanfiction, ninth-eagle DOT livejournal DOT com is Ninth Eagle, where there is a whole lot of stuff by a whole lot of people.
Beyond the Mists
Chapter 1: Over the Wall
When they crossed the Wall into Caledonia, it felt like being caught in a veil.
The air felt different, more damp, and the wind carried on it a sharp green growing scent that made Esca want to sneeze. The forest was quieter, older, the trees dark and close and gnarled, and the squirrels and birds they had seen in the south had gone queerly silent; indeed, the entire forest was silent, but for the occasional buzz of an insect and a strange high echoing call far off in the mists that made the hairs rise on the back of Esca's neck.
But most of all the mist felt like nearly a living thing, cold and choking until Esca could hardly breathe. It was like the time when he was very young and he had been playing with one of his sister's shawls and slipped into the river, tangled up in the sodden wool, struggling for breath as his vision went dark. He had not even been able to scream.
His older brother Boduoc had pulled him out of the river, and then cuffed him for his foolishness. Their father had beaten Esca, but there had been an extra bowl of stew that night, eaten curled up under his mother's mantle with her.
It was like that, and Esca had very nearly fallen off his horse when he felt the mist curling into his chest, stealing his breath.
Marcus had made them stop early that day instead of pressing on, and had built the fire and boiled some dried meat to make broth. Esca did not understand it; it was not as if he had actually fallen from his horse, and he had not expected Marcus to notice anything was wrong. When Esca asked him if he had felt anything strange in the mist, Marcus had only shrugged and said, "Your country is full of mists." But he was a Roman, with different gods and different magic, so Esca said nothing more.
Esca told himself that Marcus was only so kind because he needed Esca alive to find his Eagle. He had not asked for Marcus's kindness and did not want it, but he was no fool, so he drank the broth without complaint and ate the second bannock Marcus handed him.
As they rode on, Esca found the game increasingly scarce. At first there were still ducks, occasionally, winging their way overhead, and Esca could bring them down with a bow. He didn't much fancy retrieving them without a dog, but he fancied Marcus's bucellatum less, and at least he was hunting again. For long moments, it was almost like being free, even if he had to bring the game back to share with his Roman master.
There were a few squirrels, when they ventured into the forest, and once a peculiar lizard much larger than any Esca had seen before. Marcus eyed it dubiously, but it tasted tolerable when roasted in the coals, and neither of them took sick after eating it.
Then the squirrels were replaced by other animals, not quite squirrels or rats, and certainly not hares. Small, wary things they were, nigh impossible to catch. Ducks still skeined across the sky, but even they looked differently shaped, something wrong in the lines they made against the fishbelly gray of the sky.
And there were no singing birds, Esca realized, some days into the journey. He had been so used to awakening to the liquid warbling and chirping of sparrows and larks greeting Lugh's chariot that he had not at first realized that he woke to silence now.
Well, not silence. There was the faint hum of insects in the heather when they came out of the trees, and the occasional soft whistle or click in the brush, but none of it sounded familiar.
He had expected Caledonia to be different, the way Calleva was different from the country around Eburacum, where he had grown up; different too, perhaps, in being out of the Roman shadow, like the stories his grandfather had told of the days of kings and heroes, before Rome came to Britain's shores. He had not expected eerie mists and creatures unlike any he had seen before. What kind of country had no songbirds in the bushes?
Even Marcus, who had only seen a very little of the south and could not know how strange this was, seemed uneasy, his hand never far from his sword-hilt.
Esca still did not understand why Marcus had insisted on this mad quest. No one, without the aid of the gods, could hope to find one Roman Eagle in all of Caledonia. They were more likely to be killed by bandits or the Tribes than anything else, and Rome had done well enough for herself without the Eagle for twenty years. They had certainly not needed it to kill Esca's clan.
Still, while he did not look forward to death, better a clean death here than to die a meek slave in Calleva.
The horses were nervous, too, shying at shadows, snorting and stamping when Marcus and Esca unsaddled and hobbled them for the night. Esca had half-expected Marcus to leave that to him, but Marcus insisted on caring for Vipsania himself. Perhaps it was simply a habit from his soldiering days. They slept in watches, although they had seen no one thus far to give them harm, and no signs of bear or wolf either; it was better to be certain, and Esca did not think he could have let himself sleep if Marcus were not awake with sword in hand, looking out beyond the too-small circle of firelight.
He had not been so afraid since he was a small boy, afraid of the dark beyond the walls of the dun, and he very nearly hated Marcus for ordering him here like a dog to heel. But he had sworn an oath of honor, and like a dog he would protect, as long as he still owed a debt.
On the sixth day, they finally found a settlement, a little walled enclosure of bothies high upon a hill. The fortifications were of earth embankments, topped with sharpened logs, a strong wall for such a small settlement. It must have taken a great deal of labor to haul the logs from the forest. Why had they gone to such effort?
There was a faint frown between Marcus's brows when Esca looked over at him, and Esca knew he was thinking the same thing. It had certainly taken him long enough to realize there was something strange about Caledonia.
The people were friendly enough, though, and they had told Esca which way the soldiers had marched, twenty years before. When Esca had asked why there was so little game, they stared at him in puzzlement. Deer? Hares? They only shook their heads, and Esca gave up. Perhaps they used different words in this tribe. Esca would have been glad to stay there another night, safe within walls, but Marcus insisted they move on.
"I don't like how they looked at our horses," he said as they rode away. Esca said nothing and kept his face blank. A slave did not express an opinion, nothing that might be used against him.
But Marcus was right. They had looked at the horses strangely, like they were afraid of their presence and wanted them gone, badly enough to do something about it.