Set in Roman Britain, this novel tells the story of two Roman soldiers who discover a plot to overthrow the Emperor. They find themselves leading a band of loyalists into the thick of battle in defence of the honour of Rome.
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Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) wrote dozens of books for young readers, including her award-winning Roman Britain trilogy, The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers, which won the Carnegie Medal. The Eagle of the Ninth is now a major motion picture, The Eagle, directed by Kevin MacDonald and starring Channing Tatum. Born in Surrey, Sutcliff spent her childhood in Malta and on various other naval bases where her father was stationed. At a young age, she contracted Still’s Disease, which confined her to a wheelchair for most of her life. Shortly before her death, she was named Commander of the British Empire (CBE) one of Britain's most prestigious honors. She died in West Sussex, England, in 1992.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Saxon Shore
On a blustery autumn day a galley was nosing up the wide loop of a British river that widened into the harbour of Rutupiae.
The tide was low, and the mud-banks at either hand that would be covered at high tide were alive with curlew and sandpiper. And out of the waste of sandbank and sour salting, higher and nearer as the time went by, rose Rutupiae: the long, whale-backed hump of the island and the grey ramparts of the fortress, with the sheds of the dockyard massed below it.
The young man standing on the fore-deck of the galley watched the fortress drawing nearer with a sense of expectancy; his thoughts reaching alternately forward to the future that waited for him there, and back to a certain interview that he had had with Licinius, his Cohort Commander, three months ago, at the other end of the Empire. That had been the night his posting came through.
“You do not know Britain, do you?” Licinius had said.
Justin—Tiberius Lucius Justinianus, to give him his full name as it was inscribed on the record tablets of the Army Medical Corps at Rome—had shaken his head, saying with the small stutter that he could never quite master, “N-no, sir. My grandfather was born and bred there, but he settled in Nicaea when he left the Eagles.”
“And so you will be eager to see the province for yourself.”
“Yes, sir, only—I scarcely expected to be sent there with the Eagles.”
He could remember the scene so vividly. He could see Licinius watching him across the crocus flame of the lamp on his table, and the pattern that the wooden scroll-ends made on their shelves, and the fine-blown sand-wreaths in the corners of the mud-walled office; he could hear distant laughter in the camp, and, far away, the jackals crying; and Licinius’s dry voice:
“Only you did not know we were so friendly with Britain, or rather, with the man who has made himself Emperor of Britain?”
“Well, sir, it does seem strange. It is only this spring that Maximian sent the Caesar C-Constantius to drive him out of his Gaulish territory.”
“I agree. But there are possible explanations to these postings from other parts of the Empire to the British Legions. It may be that Rome seeks, as it were, to keep open the lines of communication. It may be that she does not choose that Marcus Aurelius Carausius should have at his command Legions that are completely cut away from the rest of the Empire. That way comes a fighting force that follows none but its own leader and owns no ties whatsoever with Imperial Rome.” Licinius had leaned forward and shut down the lid of the bronze ink-stand with a small deliberate click. “Quite honestly, I wish your posting had been to any other province of the Empire.”
Justin had stared at him in bewilderment. “Why so, sir?”
“Because I knew your father, and therefore take a certain interest in your welfare…How much do you in fact understand about the situation in Britain? About the Emperor Carausius, who is the same thing in all that matters?”
“Very little, I am afraid, sir.”
“Well then, listen, and maybe you will understand a little more. In the first place, you can rid your mind of any idea that Carausius is framed of the same stuff as most of the six-month sword-made Emperors we have had in the years before Diocletian and Maximian split the Purple between them. He is the son of a German father and a Hibernian mother, and that is a mixture to set the sparks flying; born and bred in one of the trading-stations that the Manopeans of the German sea set up long since in Hibernia, and only came back to his father’s people when he reached manhood. He was a Scaldis river-pilot when I knew him first. Afterward he broke into the Legions—the gods know how. He served in Gaul and Illyria, and under the Emperor Carus in the Persian War, rising all the time. He was one of Maximian’s right-hand men in suppressing the revolts in eastern Gaul, and made such a name for himself that Maximian, remembering his naval training, gave him command of the fleet based on Gesoriacum, and the task of clearing the Northern Seas of the Saxons swarming in them.”
Licinius had broken off there, seeming lost in his own thoughts, and in a little, Justin had prompted respectfully, “Was not there a t-tale that he let the Sea Wolves through on their raids and then fell on them when they were heavy with spoil on their h-homeward way?”
“Aye—and sent none of the spoil to Rome. It was that, I imagine, that roused Maximian’s ire. We shall never know the rights of that tale; but at all events Maximian ordered his execution, and Carausius got wind of it in time and made for Britain, followed by the whole Fleet. He was ever such a one as men follow gladly. By the time the official order for his execution was at Gesoriacum, Carausius had dealt with the Governor of Britain, and proclaimed himself Emperor with three British Legions and a large force from Gaul and Lower Germany to back his claim, and the sea swept by his galleys between him and the executioner. Aye, better galleys and better seamen than ever Maximian could lay his hands to. And in the end Maximian had no choice but to make peace and own him for a brother Emperor.”
“But we have not k-kept the peace,” Justin had said bluntly after a moment.
“No. And to my mind Constantius’s victories in North Gaul this spring are more shame to us than defeat could have been. No blame to the young Caesar; he is a man under authority like the rest of us, though he will sit in Maximian’s place one day…Well, the peace abides—after a fashion. But it is a situation that may burst into a blaze at any hour, and if it does, the gods help anyone caught in the flames.” The Commander had pushed back his chair and risen, turning to the window. “And yet, in an odd way, I think I envy you, Justin.”
Justin had said, “You liked him, then, sir?”
And he remembered now how Licinius had stood looking out into the moonlit night. “I—have never been sure,” he said, “but I would have followed him into the mouth of Erebos itself,” and turned back to the lamp.
That had been almost all, save that at the last Licinius had stayed him in the doorway, saying, “If you should at any time have speech with the great man himself, salute him from me, and ask him if he remembers the boar we killed below the pine woods at the third bend of the Scaldis.”
But it was scarcely likely, Justin thought, that a Junior Surgeon would have the chance to give any message to the Emperor Carausius.
He came back to the present with a jerk, to find that they had entered a world of stone-and-timber jetties, ringed round with sail-lofts and armourers’ shops and long-boat sheds, threading their way among the galleys that lay at anchor in the sheltered water. The mingled reek of pitch and salt-soaked timber and hot metal was in his nostrils; and above the beat of the galley’s oars and the liquid rush of water parting under the bows, he could hear the mingled myriad beehive hum of planes and saws and hammers on anvils that was the voice of a dockyard all the world over. And above him towered the ramparts of Rutupiae; a grey prow of ramparts raw with newness, from the midst of which sprang the beacon-crested tower of the Light.
A while later, having landed and reported to the Commandant and to the Senior Surgeon, having left his kit in the lime-washed cell in the officers’ block that had been assigned to him, and set out in search of the bathhouse and lost his way in the crowded unfriendly immensity of the huge fortress, Justin was standing close before that tower.
The thing was no match for the Pharos at Alexandria, but seen at close quarters it was vast enough to stop one’s breath, all the same. In the centre of the open space rose a plinth of solid masonry four or five times the height of a man, and long as an eighty-oar galley, from the midst of which a tower of the same grey stone-work soared heavenward, bearing on its high crest the iron beacon brazier that seemed to Justin, staring giddily up at it, almost to touch the drifting November skies. The gulls rose and fell about it on white wings, and he heard their thin, remote crying above the busy sounds of the fortress; then, with his head beginning to swim, brought his gaze down as far as the top of the plinth. Curved ramps for the fuel-carts led up to it at either end, and from them roofed colonnades ran in to the base of the tower itself; and now that he had got over the stupendous size of the thing enough to take in the details, he saw that the columns and cornices were of marble, enriched with statues and splendid carvings, but that they were broken and falling into decay, which was strange, here in the midst of a fortress so new that in places they were still at work on the walls. But there was broken marble everywhere, some of it roughly stacked as though for use at a future time, some clinging yet to the stark grey walls that it had once covered. A small piece that must have fallen from its fellows when being carried away lay almost at his feet and, stooping to pick it up, he saw that it was part of a sculptured laurel-wreath.
He was still holding the fragment of marble and gazing up at the great tower from which it had fallen, when a voice behind him said, “Pretty, isn’t it?” and he swung round to find standing at his elbow a very dusty young man in Centurion’s uniform, with his helmet under one arm; a stocky, red-haired young man with a thin, merry face and fly-away eyebrows, who seemed friendly.
“It is half ruined,” Justin said, puzzled. “What is it? I mean, I can see it is a pharos, b-but it looks as though it was meant to be something else as well.”
A shadow of bitte...
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Book Description Puffin Books, 1980. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 140312218
Book Description Puffin Books, 1980. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0140312218