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Authors: S. J. A. Turney

Ironroot

Ironroot

 

S.J.A.Turney

 

I would like to dedicate this book to my son, Marcus; born April 2010, the light of my life. May he grow to great things.

 

Also, to all the people who have helped and supported me over the last two years; friends I have made that I hope will last a lifetime: Jules, Prue, Robin, Simon O, Ted and Liviu most of all.

 

This book is available in print at most online retailers

 

Published in this format 2010

 

Copyright - S.J.A.Turney

 

First Edition

 

The author asserts the moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

 

All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior consent of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

By the same author:

 

Tales of the Empire Series books 1 & 3:

 

Interregnum (2009)

 

For twenty years civil war has torn the Empire apart; the Imperial line extinguished as the mad Emperor Quintus burned in his palace, betrayed by his greatest general. Against a background of war, decay, poverty and violence, men who once served in the proud Imperial army now fight as mercenaries, hiring themselves to the greediest lords.

On a hopeless battlefield that same general, now a mercenary captain tortured by the events of his past, stumbles across hope in the form of a young man begging for help. Kiva is forced to face more than his dark past as he struggles to put his life and the very Empire back together. The last scion of the Imperial line will change Kiva forever.

 

Dark Empress (2011)

 

The desert nomads have a saying:
"When something is broken it should never be discarded. So long as the pieces remains, the whole can be remade."
A time of trials, war and terror is coming to the desert city of M'Dahz, the Empire's southern bastion. As the Empire's government falters and crumbles, the people suffer.
But Samir, Ghassan and Asima, childhood friends and citizens of M'Dahz, are about to discover that while people change the world, the world also changes people and that the best and worst of folk are forged in hardship.

 

The Marius’ Mules Series, books 1 - 3:

 

Marius’ Mules: The Invasion of Gaul (2009)

 

It is 58 BC and the mighty Tenth Legion, camped in Northern Italy, prepare for the arrival of the most notorious general in Roman history: Julius Caesar.

Marcus Falerius Fronto, commander of the Tenth is a career soldier and long-time companion of Caesar's. Despite his desire for the simplicity of the military life, he cannot help but be drawn into intrigue and politics as Caesar engineers a motive to invade the lands of Gaul.

Fronto is about to discover that politics can be as dangerous as battle, that old enemies can be trusted more than new friends, and that standing close to such a shining figure as Caesar, even the most ethical of men risk being burned.

 

Marius’ Mules II: The Belgae (2010)

 

57BC. The fearsome Belgae have gathered a great army to oppose Rome and Fronto and the legions assemble once more to take Caesar’s war against the most dangerous tribes in the northern world. While the legions battle the Celts in the fiercest war of Caesar’s career, the plots and conspiracies against him, both at Rome and among his own army, become ever deeper and more dangerous.

 

Marius’ Mules III: Gallia Invicta (2011)

 

It is 56bc. As Fronto and his friends winter in Rome and Caesar in Illyricum, trouble is brewing in the north. The tribes of Armorica, driven to desperate action by the harsh rule of Crassus, raise their standards in defiance of the Roman eagle, causing a chain reaction that threatens everything the legions of Caesar have achieved. Can the general's commanders stamp out the fires of rebellion before the whole of Gaul is ablaze?
Meanwhile, in Rome, the conspiracies against Caesar take an unexpected turn, plunging Fronto and his friends into a world of crime, violence and intrigue that threaten everything the legate cares about. The city is in turmoil and the republic is teetering on the brink of disaster.
In a year that takes the legions and their commanders to the heaving Atlantic Ocean, the treacherous valleys of the Pyrenees, and the seething underbelly of the greatest city in the world, everything is about to change for Marcus Falerius Fronto.

 

Available from all good online stores.

 

For more information visit www.sjaturney.co.uk

 

Author’s Note:

 

This book picks up around two decades after the events of Interregnum, though it is not a direct sequel and stands alone as a tale. For those who have read Interregnum, some names and locations will be familiar and some new. For those who are new to the tales of the Empire, I hope you enjoy Ironroot and perhaps it will lead you to revisit the earlier story.

 

 

By moonlight white, portentous sight…

 

I remember that night.

 

I remember it as though it happened yesterday.

 

I always take a walk the night before a fight; always have. Helps clear the mind and lets you focus on the job at hand. Some people drink; some make love. I walk. Of course, it helps that I’m an officer and I can leave the camp any time I like.

Where we’d camped that night there was a small river a little to the north. Not much of a river really; more of a stream, but it ran down into a deep copse of copper coloured beech trees. I strolled from the north gate out into the moonlit night and wandered aimlessly in the general direction of the copse.

I had my armour on and my sword with me, partially because over the years it’s become such habit I often forget I’m wearing them, but also because I was leaving the camp and there were barbarians out there. To the south, for sure, but you never know.

The peace out there on the blasted moonlit heath was a balm and a blessing once you left the echoes of the raucous and nervous men in the camp far behind. The only sounds were the wind blowing through the heather and the long grass, the occasional rustle as something nocturnal scampered away from you, and once or twice the eerie, haunting call of an owl.

I’d no need of a torch or lantern. A lantern would have guttered and died in the moorland winds anyway, but the moon was full and white and shone with the aura of the Huntress. It was almost as bright as day. And I descended the slope toward the stream, my boots beginning to make sucking sounds as I stepped into the soft peat on the hillside. Reaching the stream, I stopped for a moment, trying to decide which direction to take. I may have been drawn toward the copse, or perhaps I later imagined that, given the events that unfolded. For whatever the reason, I turned and followed the babbling brook into the trees.

There everything was dark; a sort of primal darkness, such as must fill the endless halls of the underworld. I almost turned back; should have really. I’d walked far enough and needed to be among the men before we turned in. Something made me go on; again I’m not sure whether it was mere curiosity or something more. Sounds mystical and strange, I know. I’m not really a very religious man. Like most of us brought up in the chaos of the Imperial Interregnum, I paid lip service to the Gods of the Empire while maintaining my own private belief in the ability of a man to control his own destiny.

The Gods may have had other ideas. You see there are many other Gods that aren’t commonly prayed to in the Empire, but that are held in equally high esteem by the peoples on our borders. I’d been fighting the northern barbarians long enough to become quite familiar with some of these fringe deities, such as the wolf of battle, Hrogar and, of course, Cernus.

And as I stumbled along in the claustrophobic darkness of the trees, I stumbled upon a slope; almost tumbled rather than stumbled, I should say. I reached out and grasped the rough bark of a tree and regained my footing. A single animal track, probably a badger, led away and down to my right and curiously I followed it into a dell; a shallow depression sheltering a pool. It was a small pool, still as glass and reflecting the bright moon on its dark surface, framed by wavering branches. It was so still and peaceful as I wandered down through the trees to the water’s edge.

 

And saw the truth of these ‘fringe Gods’. I saw Cernus.

 

Across the water, on the far shore he stood. Among the shadows but bathed in silver moonlight, the great white stag watched me calmly. I’ve met ordinary low barbarians who became chieftains and led armies into battle just because they’d seen Cernus in the flesh. To see the Stag God by the light of the full moon is one of the tribes’ most powerful portents, though at the time I was blissfully unaware of this. I felt something that I find difficult to describe; as though I had been skewered by a thought. A single consciousness had passed from the great Stag across the water and entered my eyes, filling me with a silvery certainty. Something vast and important had just occurred that was not for me to yet fully understand. All I knew for certain was that this creature was no forest game, but a spirit of the most powerful and profound sort. And I still feel that there was no accident involved; no coincidence. Cernus drew me to that wood. Over the coming weeks it was an opinion shared by two others.

For that moment, I stood rigid, my mind filled with the shimmering light of the lake and the God that stood beside it.

And suddenly I was dismissed. My mind cleared and I actually staggered a little. A sceptic would say that a cloud drifted across the moon and shattered the silvery reflection on the water’s surface, and this is indeed true, but that was the coincidence. The stag let out a deep breath, a cloud of steam whisked away by the low breeze in the dell.

I felt in some way hollow; as though I’d just lost something truly important from my being. And yet, at the same time, I felt a certainty; a surety that something important had just transpired, but that something of even greater import lay ahead. One thing of which I was certain was that the battle the next morning held no fear for me. I would survive the following day.

I bowed once; quietly and with military precision and with an almost imperceptible acknowledgement, Cernus turned and strode silently away through the dark hollow beneath the trees. With a sense of purpose, I turned on my heel and picked my way up the difficult badger track and along through the copse to the point where the stream entered. Climbing the sucking, peaty slope once more, I set my gaze on the distant flicker of torches and made my way back to the comfort and human warmth of the camp.

 

Chapter One

 

Lucius Varro, captain of the second cohort of the fourth army, tightened his grip on the large, heavy shield covering most of his body. The knuckles of his right hand whitened as he held fast to the short sword by his side, watching the ragged line of the barbarians only a hundred yards away, taunting their enemy, chanting unintelligible war cries and howling. Such behaviour may frighten their neighbouring tribes but it would take more than a few grunts and screams to turn the hearts of the Imperial army. Glancing down, he carefully memorised once more the ground beneath his feet.

A low grassy slope leading up to the enemy line; not the best terrain. There had been a strategy meeting in the command tent yesterday and Varro had been only one of several arguing over the need to make the terrain work with the army, but the prefect had been adamant that the incline be granted to the barbarians in order to keep the sun behind the imperial line. The discussion had raged on into the late afternoon, the Commander waving aside all suggestions regarding archers, slingers and artillery. This would be an easy fight, after all. Prefect Cristus had a disconcerting habit of ignoring the best tactical advice of his officers, yet had a track record of glorious successes regardless. But then the prefect would not be there to see the effect of his decisions, travelling to Vengen for a staff meeting as he now was. And though Varro had taken a long walk last night before the battle, it had done little to calm him. His eyes refocused on the grassy incline.

Only a couple of feet ahead lay what looked like a rabbit hole. Better be careful of that. One slip and he’d be delivered back to the fort in the dead-wagon. He shrugged his shoulders and felt the interlocking plates of his armour settle slightly as the weight distributed, eradicating that annoying pinch in his shoulder. He smiled.

Glancing to his left, he saw the standard bearer holding aloft the magnificent raven banner with the image of the emperor and the ram with a lightning bolt, symbol of the Fourth. Belianus glanced back at him and grinned.

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