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When the Eagle Hunts

When the Eagle Hunts

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by Simon Scarrow
     
 

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In the bitter winter of AD 44, the Roman troops in Britain are impatiently awaiting the arrival of spring so that the campaign to conquer the island can be renewed. But the native Britons are growing more cunning in their resistance, constantly snapping at the heels of the mighty Roman forces.

When the most brutal of the native tribesmen, the Druids of the

Overview

In the bitter winter of AD 44, the Roman troops in Britain are impatiently awaiting the arrival of spring so that the campaign to conquer the island can be renewed. But the native Britons are growing more cunning in their resistance, constantly snapping at the heels of the mighty Roman forces.

When the most brutal of the native tribesmen, the Druids of the Dark Moon, capture the shipwrecked wife and children of General Plautius, quick action is called for. Two volunteers from the crack Second Legion must venture deep into hostile territory in a desperate attempt to rescue the prisoners.

Centurion Macro and his optio, Cato, find themselves slipping out of camp in the dead of night to reach the General's family before they are sacrificed to the Druids' dark gods. They know they are heading towards an almost certain death, and their only hope is that, with sheer courage and ingenuity, they can outwit the most ruthless foes they've ever faced.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Scarrow's third historical (Under the Eagle; The Eagle's Conquest) continues to chart the first-century Roman invasion of ancient Britain, as it records-skirmish by skirmish-the exploits of Centurion Macro, who commands the Sixth Century of the Fourth Cohort of the Second Roman Legion, and his optio (junior officer), Cato. In the early winter of A.D. 44, a supply vessel carrying the wife and two children of General Plautius is shipwrecked off the British coast. The general's family-with Prefect Valerius Maxentius, their official escort-is taken prisoner by the bloodthirsty Druids of the Dark Moon. A short time later, Maxentius, accompanied by a Druid warrior, approaches the Roman encampment and delivers an ultimatum: unless the Romans release five Druid prisoners, the general's family will be burned alive. In case anyone doubted his seriousness, the Druid summarily beheads Maxentius. Following the Fourth Cohort's great losses fighting its way through a horde of Britons, Plautius dispatches Macro and Cato to rescue his family. Macro and Cato's difficult undertaking is further complicated when their two captive guides turn out to be Macro's former girlfriend and her fianc , a fearsome Druid magician. Despite Scarrow's attempt to invest his characters with personality, they come across as cardboard cutouts, and their anachronistic dialogue is off-putting. But his settings are well described and, however predictable, the plotting is strong, with much of the action reminiscent of Bernard Cornwell's. Albeit a bit slight and sporadic, Scarrow's novel demonstrates improvement in crafting, which bodes well for the expected sequel. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Third installment in Scarrow's saga of Roman centurion Macro (The Eagle's Conquest, 2002, etc.), who rose from obscurity to command legionaries in an obscure outpost of the Empire known as Britain. Those who have followed Macro's rise will know the terrain, but newcomers should have no trouble picking up in media res. An illiterate foot soldier who rose to become a centurion (rough equivalent of a modern captain) in the crack Second Legion, Macro has survived both combat and palace intrigue and finds himself beset now by the warring tribes of Britain in a.d. 44. Although the British warlord Caratacus was soundly defeated (in the last episode), he somehow managed to escape the battlefield alive and has been coordinating resistance efforts against the Roman occupiers ever since. Some of his fiercest allies are the Druids of the Dark Moon, a bloodthirsty and fanatical cult who maraud through the country arousing terror in Roman and Briton alike. The Druids even manage to capture the wife and children of the Roman General Plautius after a shipwreck, and they demand the release of Druid prisoners in exchange for their prisoners' safe return. Since the Druids are fond of burning their captives alive in gigantic wooden totems known as Wicker Men, there's little doubt what lies in store for the general's family should he refuse to comply. But Macro and his faithful lieutenant Cato believe they can organize a rescue in time. Macro is aided by the dauntless Boudica, a tough daughter of the neutral Iceni tribe, who knows more about dealing with the Druids than ten centurions could ever learn. Together, Macro and Boudica manage something even more difficult than the raid itself-that is, fall in love.An account of war and religious fanaticism with plenty of spice, though not up to the adventure level of the first two.
From the Publisher

“This authentic evocation of the mighty Roman army is cloaked in action, suspense, and history. A darn good yarn.” —Booklist

“His settings are well described and the plotting is strong, with much of the action reminiscent of Bernard Cornwell's.” —Publishers Weekly

“An account of war and religious fanaticism with plenty of spice.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The third in Scarrow's historical series...and it's probably the best.” —The Mail on Sunday (UK)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429980326
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
04/01/2007
Series:
Eagle Series , #3
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
445,727
File size:
508 KB

Read an Excerpt

When the Eagle Hunts


By Simon Scarrow

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2002 Simon Scarrow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8032-6


CHAPTER 1

The heaving tumult around the ship was frozen for an instant by sheet lightning. All around, the foaming sweep of the sea stilled as the stark shadows of the sailors and the rigging scored the brilliantly lit deck of the trireme. Then the light was ripped away and darkness gripped the vessel once more. Black clouds hung low in the sky and billowed across the grey waves rolling down from the north. Nightfall was not yet upon them, yet it seemed to the terrified crew and passengers that the sun must have long since quit the world. Only the faintest smudge of lighter grey away to the west indicated its passage. The convoy was hopelessly scattered, and the prefect commanding the newly commissioned squadron of triremes swore angrily. With one hand firmly gripping a stay, the prefect used his spare hand to shield his eyes from the icy spray as he scanned the foaming wave tops around them.

Only two ships of his squadron remained in sight, dark silhouettes heaving into view as his flagship was raised on the crest of a great wave. The two ships were far off to the east, and beyond them would be the rest of the convoy, spread across the wild sea. They might still make the entrance of the channel that led inland to Rutupiae. But for the flagship there was no hope of reaching the great supply base that equipped and fed the Roman army. Further inland the legions were safely nestled in their winter quarters at Camulodunum, in readiness for the renewal of the campaign to conquer Britain. Despite the best efforts of the men at the oars, the vessel was being swept away from Rutupiae.

Looking across the waves to the dark line of the British coast, the prefect bitterly acknowledged that the storm had bested him, and passed the order for oars to be shipped. As he considered his options, the crew hurriedly raised a small triangular sail from the bows to help steady the vessel. Since the invasion had been launched the previous summer, the prefect had crossed this stretch of sea scores of times, but not in such dreadful conditions. Indeed, he had never before seen the weather turn so rapidly. That morning, which seemed so very long ago now, the sky had been clear and a brisk southerly promised a quick crossing from Gesoriacum. Normally no ships would put to sea in winter, but the army of General Plautius was short of supplies. The scorched-earth tactics of the British commander, Caratacus, meant that the legions depended on a steady supply of grain from the continent to get them through the winter without depleting the stockpiles necessary for continuing the campaign in the spring. So the convoys had continued to cross the channel whenever the weather permitted. This morning the prefect had been fooled by perfidious nature into ordering his laden vessels to set out for Rutupiae, never dreaming that they would be caught in this tempest.

Just as the coastline of Britain had come into view above the choppy surface, a dark band of cloud had thickened along the northern horizon. The breeze quickly strengthened, and abruptly veered round, and the men of the squadron watched with growing dread aš the dark clouds bounded down on them like foaming ravenous beasts. The squall had struck the prefect's trireme at the head of the convoy with appalling suddenness. The shrieking wind snatched the vessel by the beam and tilted it over so far that the crew had been forced to abandon their duties and grab the nearest handhold to save themselves from being thrown over the side. As the trireme ponderously righted itself, the prefect cast an eye around the rest of the convoy. Some of the flat-bottomed transports had been rolled over completely and close by the dark humps of their hulls tiny figures bobbed in the foaming sea. Some waved pathetically, as if they truly believed that the other vessels might yet be able to rescue them. Already the convoy's formation had been blown to pieces and each ship struggled for survival, heedless of the plight of all others.

With the wind came rain. Great icy drops slashing diagonally down on the trireme and stinging the skin with their impact. Very quickly the bone-numbing cold made the sailors slow and clumsy in their work. Huddled in his water-proofed cloak, the prefect could see that unless the storm eased soon, the captain and his men would surely lose control of their ship. And all about them the sea raged, scattering the ships in every direction. By some quirk of nature the three triremes at the head of the convoy were subjected to the worst violence of the storm and were quickly blown far from the rest – the prefect's trireme furthest of all. Since then the storm had raged for the whole afternoon and showed no signs of slacking as night drew on.

The prefect reviewed his knowledge of the British coastline and mentally scanned the coast. He calculated that they had already been swept well down the coast from the channel leading to Rutupiae. The sheer chalk cliffs around the settlement at Dubris were just in sight of the starboard beam and they would have to battle the storm for some hours yet before they could attempt to approach a safe stretch of the shore.

The ship's captain staggered along the heaving deck towards him and saluted as he approached, keeping one hand clasped firmly to the taffrail.

'What is it?' shouted the prefect.

'The bilges!' the captain called out, voice hoarse from the effort of shouting his orders above the shrieking wind for the last few hours. He jabbed his finger at the deck to make his meaning clear. 'We're taking on too much water!'

'Can we bail it out?'

The captain tilted his ear towards the prefect.

Taking a deep breath, the prefect cupped a hand to his mouth and shouted, 'Can we bail it out?'

The captain shook his head.

'So what now?'

'We have to run before the storm! It's our only hope of staying afloat. Then find somewhere safe to land!'

The prefect gave an exaggerated nod to show he had understood. Very well then. They would have to find somewhere to beach the ship. Some thirty or forty miles down the coast the cliffs gave way to shingled beaches. Providing the surf was not too wild, beaching could be attempted. That might cause serious damage to the trireme but better that than the certainty of losing the ship and all the crew and passengers. With that thought, the prefect's mind went to the woman and her young children sheltering below his feet. They had been trusted to his care and he must do everything in his power to save them.

'Give the order, Captain! I'm going below.'

'Aye, sir!' The captain saluted and turned back towards the waist of the trireme, where the sailors huddled by the base of the mast. The prefect watched for a moment as the captain bellowed his orders and pointed to the furled sail on the spar at the top of the mast. No one moved. The captain shouted the order again, then viciously kicked the nearest sailor. The man cowered back, only to be kicked again. He leaped for the rigging and began to make his way aloft. The others followed, clinging to the stays as they struggled up the swaying ratlines and transferred themselves to the spar. Bare frozen feet pushed down onto the toe-line as they inched out above the deck. Only when every man was in position could they undo the ties and release the sail as far as the first reefing point. That much sail would be all that was necessary to give the vessel steerage way as it ran before the storm. Each burst of lightning briefly silhouetted the mast, spar and men in harsh black against a dazzling white sky. The prefect noticed that lightning made the rain seem to stop in mid-air for an instant. Despite the terror that gripped his heart, he felt a thrill of excitement at this awesome display of Neptune's powers.

At last all the men were in position. Bracing his solid legs on the deck, the captain cupped both hands and tipped his face up towards the mast.

'Unfurl!'

Numbed fingers worked frantically at the leather ties. Some were less clumsy than others and the sail loosened unevenly from the spar. A sudden shrilling through the rigging heralded the renewal of the storm's wildest efforts and the trireme recoiled from its wrath. One sailor, in a more weakened condition than his comrades, lost his grip and was hurled into the darkness so quickly that none who saw it happen marked where he fell into the sea. But there was no pause in the sailors' efforts. The wind tore at the exposed parts of the sail and nearly succeeded in prising it free of their grip before the sailors managed to tie down the reefing lines. As soon as the sail was set, the men climbed back along the spar and painstakingly made their way down to the deck, their haggard faces testimony to the cold and exhaustion they were suffering.

The prefect made his way to the hatch coaming at the stern and carefully lowered himself down into the pitch-black interior. The small cabin seemed unnaturally quiet after the shrieking, buffeting wind and rain on deck. The sound of whimpering drew him aft, where the timbers curved together, and a flash of lightning through the hatch revealed the woman wedged into the stern, her arms tightly held round the shoulders of two young children. They shivered, clutching their mother, and the youngest, a boy of five, cried inconsolably, face drenched with spray, tears and snot. His sister, three years older, just sat, silent but wide-eyed with terror. The trireme's bows suddenly lifted to a huge wave and the prefect pitched towards his passengers. He thrust an arm out against the hull and fell sprawling against the opposite side. He took a moment to recover his breath, and the woman's voice spoke calmly from the darkness.

'We will come through this, won't we?'

Another flash of lightning revealed the panic etched onto the pale faces of the children.

The prefect decided there was no point in mentioning that he had decided to try and beach the trireme. Best save his passengers any further anxiety.

Of course, my lady. We're running before the storm and as soon as it's passed we'll make our way back up the coast to Rutupiae.'

'I see,' the woman replied flatly, and the prefect realised she had seen through his answer. Clearly a perceptive woman then, a credit to her noble family and to her husband. She gave her children a reassuring squeeze.

'Did you hear that, my dears? We'll be warm and dry soon enough.'

The prefect recalled their shivering and cursed his thoughtlessness.

'Just a moment, my lady.' His numbed fingers fiddled with the clasp fastening the water-proofed cloak at his throat. He swore at his clumsiness, and then the pin came free. He drew it from around his shoulders and held it towards her in the darkness.

'Here, for you and your children, my lady.'

He felt the cloak drawn from him.

'Thank you, Prefect, it's most kind of you. Let's cuddle under this cloak, you two.'

As the prefect drew his knees up and hugged his arms round them, trying to create some centre of warmth to draw comfort from, a hand gently tapped him on the shoulder.

'My lady?'

'It's Valerius Maxentius, isn't it?'

'Yes, my lady.'

'Well then, Valerius. Shelter under this cloak with us. Before the cold kills you.'

The casual use of his informal name momentarily shocked the prefect. Then he mumbled his thanks and shifted over, joining the woman under the cloak. The boy sat huddled between them, shivering violently, and every so often his body was wracked by sobbing.

'Easy there,' the prefect said softly. 'We'll be all right. You'll see.'

A series of lightning flashes illuminated the cabin, and the prefect and the woman glanced at each other. Her look was questioning, and he shook his head. A fresh deluge of silvery water splashed through the hatch into the cabin. The great timbers of the trireme groaned all around them as the fabric of the vessel was subjected to forces its builders had never dreamed of. The prefect knew that her seams would not stand much more of this violence and eventually the sea would swamp her. And all the slaves chained at the oars, the crewmen and these passengers would drown with him. He cursed softly before he could stop himself. The woman guessed his feelings.

'Valerius, it's not your fault. You could never have foreseen this.'

'I know, my lady. I know.'

'We might yet be saved.'

'Yes, my lady. If you say so.'

Throughout the night the storm swept the trireme down the coast. Halfway up the rigging, the captain braved the biting cold to search for a suitable place to try to beach the trireme. All the time he was conscious that the ship beneath him was ever more sluggish in its response to the waves. Below decks a number of galley slaves had been unshackled to help with the bailing. They sat in a line and passed buckets from hand to hand, to be emptied over the side. But it was not enough to save the ship; it merely delayed the inevitable moment when a massive wave would burst over the trireme and sink her.

A desperate wailing reached the captain from the slaves still chained to their benches. The water was already slopping about their knees and for them there would be no hope of salvation once the ship foundered. Others might survive a while, clinging to the debris before the cold finished them, but for the slaves, drowning was certain and the captain could well understand their hysteria.

The rain turned to sleet and then to snow. Thick white flakes swirled in on the wind and layered themselves on the captain's tunic. His hands were losing all sensation and he realised he must return to the deck before the cold weakened his grip on the rigging. But just as he took the first step down, he glimpsed the dark loom of a headland over the bow. White spray burst over jagged rocks at the base of the cliff, barely half a mile ahead.

The captain rapidly swung himself to the deck and hurried aft towards the steersman.

'Rocks ahead! Hard over!'

The captain threw himself onto the timber handle and strained with the steersman against the pressure of the sea surging past the broad steering paddle overside. Slowly the trireme responded, and the bowsprit began to turn away from the headland. In the glare of the lightning, they could see the glistening dark teeth of the rocks rising from the crashing waves. The roar of their pounding carried even above the howling of the wind. For a moment the bowsprit refused to swing any further towards the open sea and the captain's heart was seized by dark, cold despair. Then a fluke in the wind carried the bowsprit round, clear of the rocks, barely a hundred feet off the bow.

'That's it! Keep her there!' he screamed at the steersman.

With the small spread of mainsail straining under the pressure of the wind, the trireme surged forward, up and over the wild sea. Past the headland the cliff opened out onto a pebbled shore, behind which the land rose with a scattering of stunted trees. Waves pounded up the beach in great sweeps of white foam.

'There!' The captain pointed. 'We'll beach her there.'

'In that surf?' shouted the steersman. 'That's madness!'

'It's our only chance! Now, on the tiller, with me!'

With the paddle biting in the opposite direction, the trireme swung in towards the shore. For the first time that night the captain allowed himself to believe they might yet emerge from this tempest alive. He even laughed with exultation at having defied the worst of the wrath that great Neptune could hurl at those who ventured into his domain. But with the safety of the shore almost within their reach, the sea finally had its way with them. A great swell rolled in from the dark depths of the ocean and lifted the trireme up and up, until the captain found that he was looking down on the shore. Then the crest passed beneath them and the ship dropped like a stone. With a jarring crash that knocked all the crew off their feet, the bows were impaled on a jagged sliver of rock some distance from the base of the headland. The captain quickly regained his footing, and the firm deck under his boots told him that the ship was no longer afloat.

The next wave forced the trireme to pivot round, so that the stern was nearest the beach. A rending crash from forward told of the damage being wreaked. From below came the cries and screams of the slaves as the water cascaded down the length of the trireme. Within moments she would settle, and succeeding waves would dash her and all aboard onto the rocks.

'What's happened?'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from When the Eagle Hunts by Simon Scarrow. Copyright © 2002 Simon Scarrow. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Simon Scarrow teaches at City College in Norwich. He has in the past run a Roman History program taking parties of students to a number of ruins and museums across Britain. He lives in Norfolk, and When the Eagle Hunts is his third novel featuring Macro and Cato.


Simon Scarrow teaches at City College in Norwich, England. He has in the past run a Roman history program, taking parties of students to a number of ruins and museums across Britain. He lives in Norfolk, England, and writes novels featuring Macro and Cato. His books include Under the Eagle and The Eagle's Conquest.

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The third installment of Simon Scarrow's Roman legion adventures finds Centurion Macro and his optio Cato exercising various forms of entertainment until the spring campaign begins.In the meantime a ship carrying a Roman general's wife and children is sunk during a savage storm,and yet while they make good their escape they are captured by a fanatical group of druids.Naturally Cato volunteers to a rescue attempt forcing Macro to accompany him.They have less than 25 days before the druids say they will burn them alive.Mr. Scarrow as usual offers much action and some comic banter between characters.When all is said and done a promise has been kept and rewards have been doled out.A very satisfactory read.
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