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Authors: Harry Turtledove

An Emperor for the Legion

BOOK: An Emperor for the Legion
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THE HIGH PRIEST
OF HELL

As Marcus pushed forward against the usurpers, he came to the iron pot from which they had dipped their magic against iron weapons. He glanced into it and found himself looking at horror. Floating in the boiling, scum-filled water was a dead baby—or what would have been a human baby in a few more months. His eyes slipped down to the serving wench’s opened belly, back in disbelief to the cauldron, and he was sick where he stood.

Cold in him was the knowledge that there was, after all, evil worse than he had ever known before. Surely in the sorcerer Rhavas, Skotos, god of Hell, walked on earth.

“Rhavas!” he shouted, the name as putrid as the vomit on his tongue. Then he suddenly solved the anagram and cried another name: “Avshar!”

For it was Avshar, priest of the god of Hell and Videssos’ greatest foe—and it was to him that the Pretender had turned as chief upholder of his rule!

By Harry Turtledove
Published by Ballantine Books

Departures

Guns of the South

How Few Remain

Krispos Rising

The American Empire Saga:

Blood and Iron

The Center Cannot Hold

The Colonization Series:

Second Contact

Down to Earth

Aftershocks

The Great War:

American Front

Walk in Hell

Breakthroughs

The Videssos Cycle:

Misplaced Legion

An Emperor for the Legion

Legion of Videssos

Swords of the Legion

The World War Saga:

In the Balance

Tilting the Balance

Upsetting the Balance

Striking the Balance

Edited by Harry Turtledove

Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century

Counting Up, Counting Down

Edited with Martin H. Greenberg

Best Military Science Fiction of the 20
th
Century

A Del Rey® Book
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group
Copyright © 1987 by Harry Turtledove

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Map by Shelly Shapiro

Del Rey and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

www.delreydigital.com

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 86-91657

eISBN: 978-0-307-78984-6

v3.1

To Judy-Lynn del Rey, for calling
to let me know they sold.

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE:

A scouting column of three cohorts of Roman legionaries, led by military tribune Marcus Aemilius Scaurus and senior centurion Gaius Philippus, was returning to Julius Caesar’s main army when they were ambushed by Gauls. To prevent mass slaughter, the Gallic commander Viridovix offered single combat, and Marcus accepted. Both men bore druids’ swords, that of Marcus being battle spoil. When the blades crossed, a dome of light sprang up around them. Suddenly the Romans and Viridovix were in an unfamiliar world with strange stars.

They soon discovered they were in the war-torn Empire of Videssos, a land where priests of the god Phos could work real magic. They were hired as a mercenary unit by the Empire and spent the winter in the provincial town of Imbros, learning the language and customs.

When spring came, they marched to Videssos the city, capital of the Empire. There Marcus met the soldier-Emperor Ma-vrikios Gavras, his brother Thorisin, and the prime minister, Vardanes Sphrantzes, a bureaucrat whose enmity Marcus incurred. At a banquet in the Romans’ honor, Marcus met Mavrikios’ daughter Alypia and accidentally spilled wine on the wizard Avshar, envoy of Yezd, Videssos’ western enemy. Avshar demanded a duel. When the wizard tried to cheat with sorcery, Marcus’ druid sword neutralized the spell, and Marcus won.

Avshar tried for revenge with an enchanted dagger in the hands of a nomad under his spell. The Videssian priest Nepos was horrified at the use of evil magic. Avshar forfeited the protection granted envoys.

Marcus was sent to arrest Avshar, accompanied by Hemond and a squad of Namdaleni, mercenaries from the island nation of Namdalen. But Avshar had fled, leaving a sorcerous trap that killed Hemond. Marcus was given Hemond’s sword to take to his widow, Helvis.

Avshar’s offenses served as justification for Videssos to declare war on Yezd, which had been raiding deep into the western part of the Empire. Troops—native and mercenary—flooded into the capital as Videssos prepared for war. Tension rose between Videssians and the growing number of Namdaleni because of differences in their worship of Phos. To the religiously liberal Romans, the differences were minor, but each side considered the other heretics. The Videssian patriarch Balsamon preached a sermon of toleration, which eased the tension for the moment.

But fanatic Videssian monks stirred up trouble again. Rioting broke out, and Marcus was sent with a force of Romans to help quell it. Going into a dark courtyard to break up a rape, he discovered that the intended victim was Helvis. Caught up in the moment, they made love. And after the riots subsided, she and her son joined him in the Romans’ barracks. Other Romans had already found partners.

At last the unwieldy army moved west against Yezd, accompanied by women and dependents. Marcus was pleased to learn Helvis was pregnant, but shocked to discover Ortaias Sphrantzes commanded the army’s left wing; he was only slightly mollified on finding the young man was a figurehead, hostage for Vardanes Sphrantzes’ good behavior.

More troops joined the army in the westlands, including those of Baanes Onomagoulos and Gagik Bagratouni, a noble driven from his home in mountainous Vaspurakan by Yezda. Two other Vaspurakaners, Senpat Sviodo and his wife Nevrat, were acting as guides for the Romans. All Vaspurakaners were hated as heretics by a local priest, Zemarkhos, Zemarkhos cursed Bagratouni, who threw him and his dog into a sack, then beat the sack. Fearing a pogrom, Marcus interceded for him.

The Yezda began hit-and-run raids against the imperial army as it moved closer to Yezd. Then an advance force of Onomagoulos’ troops was pinned down near the town of Maragha. Leaving the army’s dependents behind at Khliat, the Emperor moved forward to rescue them.

In a great battle, Avshar commanded the Yezda. By sorcery, he slew the officer who truly commanded the imperial army’s left wing. Ortaias Sphrantzes, suddenly thrust into real command, panicked and fled.

The whole wing collapsed. The battle, till then nearly a draw, turned to disaster. Mavrikios fell fighting, and Thorisin’s desperate counterattack from the right failed, though he did manage to escape with a fair part of the army.

Roman discipline let the legionaries hold their ranks. They withdrew in good order and encamped for the night. Toward midnight, Avshar taunted them by throwing Mavrikios’ head into their camp. As Gaius Philippus commented, the wizard should have pursued the forces of Thorisin instead.

The game was not over yet.

Contents
I

T
HE
R
OMANS’ TREK EAST FROM THE DISASTROUS BATTLE
field where the Emperor of Videssos lost his life was a journey full of torment. The season was late summer, the land through which they marched sere and burning hot. Mirages shimmered ahead, treacherously promising lakes where a mud puddle would have been a prodigy. Bands of Yezda invaders dogged the fugitives’ tracks, skirmishing occasionally and always alert to pick off stragglers.

Scaurus still carried Mavrikios Gavras’ severed head, the only sure proof the Emperor was dead. Foreseeing chaos in Videssos after Mavrikios’ fall, he thought it wise to forestall pretenders who might claim the imperial name to aid their climbs to power. It would not be the first time Videssos had known such things.

“Sorry I am I wasna there when that black spalpeen Avshar flung you himself’s noddle,” Viridovix said to the tribune, his Latin musically flavored by his native Celtic speech. “I had a fine Yezda one to throw back at him.” True to the fierce custom of his folk, the Gaul had taken a slain enemy’s head for a trophy.

At any other time Marcus would have found that revolting. In defeat’s bitter aftermath, he nodded and said, “I wish you’d been there, too.”

“Aye, it would have given the whoreson something to think on,” Gaius Philippus chimed in. The senior centurion usually enjoyed quarreling with Viridovix, but their hatred for the wizard-prince of Yezd brought them together now.

Marcus rubbed his chin, felt rough whiskers scratch under
his fingers. Like most of the Romans, he had stayed clean-faced in a bearded land, but lately there had been little time for shaving. He plucked a whisker; it shone golden in the sunlight. Coming as he did from Mediolanum in northern Italy, he had a large proportion of northern blood in his veins. In Caesar’s army in Gaul, he had been teased about looking like a Celt himself. The Videssians often took him for a Haloga; many of those warriors forsook their chilly home for mercenary service in the Empire.

Gorgidas worked ceaselessly with the wounded, changing dressings, splinting broken bones, and dispensing the few ointments and medicines left in his depleted store. Although hurt himself, the slim, dark Greek doctor disregarded his pain to bring others relief.

BOOK: An Emperor for the Legion
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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