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Authors: Ruth Downie

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Tabula Rasa

BOOK: Tabula Rasa
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To those who wait, not knowing whether news will ever come.

With respect.

Nescis quid vesper vehat.


You do not know what the evening will bring.


, Book
II, 8.2


In Which Our Hero . .



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77


Author’s Note


A Note on the Author

By the Same Author





our hero, Gaius Petreius Ruso, will be . . .







watched by

Aedic, a boy who sees something amazing


motivated by

his old friend and former clerk

. . . and by embarrassment


worried by

Candidus, a young clerk, nephew of Albanus


exasperated by

Fabius, the local centurion


puzzled by

Nisus, a pharmacist

Regulus, a victim of attack by natives

Grata, the absent girlfriend of Albanus


assisted by

Virana, a pregnant girl whom nobody else wants

Gallus, his baby-faced deputy

Valens, an old friend and colleague

Mallius, a quarryman with a hen

A lucky charm


led into trouble by

Tilla, his wife, formerly known as Darlughdacha

Daminius, a junior officer


surprised by

Gracilis, a clerk

Mara, Tilla’s mother, long deceased


reassessed by

Pertinax, formerly the second spear, now promoted to prefect of the camp


informed by

Olennius, a builder

Silvanus, Candidus’s centurion

Larentia, a girl with a mole in the right place


misinformed by

Lupus, a slave dealer

Lupus’s agent


welcomed by

Senecio, the head of a native family

Branan, youngest son of Senecio

Susanna, an old friend in Coria


not welcomed by

Conn, an older son of Senecio

A group of fur traders


fed by

wife of Senecio

Ria, landlady and part owner of the local snack bar

A kitchen maid


commanded by

tribune with the Twentieth Legion

insulted by

wife of Valens, and daughter of Pertinax


ignored by

Rianorix, husband of Tilla’s cousin Aemilia


set upon by

Various Britons, mostly for the best of reasons


And his fate will be influenced—from a distance—by

Cata, a long-suffering girlfriend

Dubnus, another son of Senecio (deceased)

Inam, young neighbor and friend of Branan

Matto, a bully

Lucano, elder brother of Matto and a bigger bully

Petta, stepmother of Aedic

legendary owner of a box (or jar, depending upon who you believe) full of bad things and best never opened.

Chapter 1

It was easy to believe that the rain threw itself at you personally; hard not to feel persecuted and aggrieved when it found its way into your boots no matter how much grease you slathered on them. It blew in veils across the sides of the hills, whipped along the crests, and cascaded in streams down the valleys. The river had burst its banks, and the meadows beside it mirrored the gray sky. Turf squelched underfoot and supply carts sank into the mud, so that whole gangs who should have been building spent the short daylight hours sloshing about, clearing drains and filling potholes. Men pulled hoods over their heads to stop the wet from going down their necks and then had to keep pushing them back to see properly. Inevitably, there were accidents.

Up at the wall, the rain made earth heavier to shift and washed white streaks of fresh mortar out of the day’s build. In the quarry, hammers skidded off the heads of chisels. In the camp, tools and armor went rusty overnight. Doors stuck, leather was clammy, firewood was hard to light, and bedding smelled of damp wool and mold.

And then, after another long night in chilly beds, serenaded by a ragged chorus of coughing and snoring, the builders woke to an innocent morning full of birdsong. The sun rose in a sky that had been rinsed clean. Crisp views stretched for miles across hills that rolled like waves toward the north. Men nodded greetings to each other as they lifted the sides of tents and hung everything out to dry.

Some even dared to hope that the worst was over. Most knew it wouldn’t be. This was October, and the weather was only going to get worse. Already a strategic retreat was planned for the end of the month: The legions would march south to hunker down in their winter quarters, leaving the permanent garrison to tough it out here along the line of the emperor’s Great Wall until the next building season. If the garrison troops were bored or cold up here, there were—as the legionaries were happy to remind them—plenty of ditches to be dug.

And then it happened


It was a tearing, gut-wrenching roar, like a thunderbolt crashing into the depths of the underworld and shaking the ground beneath their feet. Medical Officer Gaius Petreius Ruso ducked and clamped his hands over his ears, but the cry of “Earthquake!” died in his throat. The noise wasn’t how he remembered it. Besides, this was Britannia, not known for earthquakes, and whatever it was had stopped.

Ruso and his assistant straightened up, glancing at one another as if to confirm they had not imagined it. Beyond the stone wall, a panicked flock of sheep was racing across the hillside. Dogs had begun to bark, sounding the alarm in the surrounding scatter of native farms.

Ruso bent to retrieve his medical case, wiping off the mud on the grass at the side of track. Several loose pack ponies bolted past him, narrowly avoiding men who were sprinting down from the camp while grimy and breathless figures were hurrying up to meet them. Somewhere over the chaos, a trumpeter was sounding the call to assemble.

Ruso was already heading downhill when a wild-eyed man in a rough work tunic grabbed him by the arm. “Sir, they need a medic in the quarry!”


The quarry, even when it was full of legionaries cutting stone for the emperor’s Great Wall, had always seemed relatively peaceful. The
of hammers on wedges rang out like the pecking of metal birds above the gurgling of a stream that was swollen by summer rain. Everything brought in by the army—men, tools, work sheds, lines of plodding ponies, lifting gear, wagons—was dwarfed by the raw cliff face that loomed above them.

BOOK: Tabula Rasa
7.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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