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Authors: Ruth Downie

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Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire

BOOK: Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire
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TERRA
INCOGNITA

A Novel of the Roman Empire

RUTH DOWNIE

BLOOMSBURY
New York Berlin London

Table of Contents

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

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90

Chapter 91

Chapter 92

AUTHOR’S NOTE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

KEEP READING!

PERSONA NON GRATA

Chapter 1

TERRA INCOGNITA

A NOVEL

IN WHICH
our hero will be . . .

puzzled by

Felix—a silenced trumpeter

troubled by

Tilla—his housekeeper

a wagon driver

a carpenter

Lydia—the carpenter’s girlfriend

Thessalus—retiring medic to the Tenth Batavians

bedbugs

hindered by

Gambax—assistant medic to the Tenth Batavians

Ness—a domestic servant

challenged by

a baker’s wife

Decianus—prefect of the Tenth Batavians

Metellus—Decianus’s aide, assigned to “special duties”

Postumus—a centurion from the Twentieth Legion

Rianorix—a basket maker

distracted by

Dari—a waitress

assisted by

Albanus—a clerk

Ingenuus—a hospital bandager

Valens—a colleague

welcomed by

Catavignus—a local brewer

Susanna, who serves the best food in town

Veldicca—a single parent

a shopkeeper

several civilians with ailments

disdained by

Audax—a centurion with the Tenth Batavians

Trenus—a man from the north

the ladies of the bathhouse

several other civilians with ailments

endangered by

a mysterious rider

Festinus—a barber

a large number of locals

embarrassed by

Claudius Innocens—a trader

surprised by

Aemilia—Catavignus’s daughter

missed by

Lucius—his brother

Cassia—Lucius’s wife

their four (or five) children

Arria—his stepmother

not missed at all by

his two half sisters

Claudia—his former wife

ruled by

the emperor Hadrian

ignored by

the governor of Britannia

thanked by

nobody

Nec tecum possum vivere, nec sine te.

I can’t live with you—nor without you.

—Martial

H
E HAD NOT
expected to be afraid. He had been fasting for three
days, and still the gods had not answered. The certainty had not come. But
he had made a vow and he must keep it. Now, while he still had the strength.

He glanced around the empty house. He was sorry about that barrel of beer
only half drunk. About the stock of baskets that were several weeks’ work, and
that he might never now sell at market.

He had nothing else to regret. Perhaps, if the gods were kind, he would be
drinking that beer at breakfast tomorrow with his honor restored. Or perhaps he
would have joined his friends in the next world.

He would give the soldier a chance, of course. Make one final request for him to
do as the law demanded. After that, both their fates would lie in the hands of the
gods.

He closed the door of his house and tied it shut, perhaps for the last time. He
walked across and checked that the water trough was full. The pony would be all
right for three, perhaps four days. Somebody would probably steal her before then
anyway.

He pulled the gate shut out of habit, although there was nothing to escape and
little for any wandering animals to eat in there. Then he set off to walk to Coria,
find that foreign bastard, and teach him the meaning of respect.

1

M
ANY MILES SOUTH
of Coria, Ruso gathered both reins in his left hand, reached down into the saddlebag, and took out the pie he had saved from last night. The secret of happiness, he reflected as he munched on the pie, was to enjoy simple pleasures. A good meal. A warm, dry goatskin tent shared with men who neither snored, passed excessive amounts of wind, nor imagined that he might want to stay awake listening to jokes. Or symptoms. Last night he had slept the sleep of a happy man.

Ruso had now been in Britannia for eight months, most of them winter. He had learned why the province’s only contribution to fashion was a thick cloak designed to keep out the rain. Rain was not a bad thing, of course, as his brother had reminded him on more than one occasion. But his brother was a farmer, and he was talking about proper rain: the sort that cascaded from the heavens to water the earth and fill the aqueducts and wash the drains. British rain was rarely that simple. For days on end, instead of falling, it simply hung around in the air like a wife waiting for you to notice she was sulking.

Still, with commendable optimism, the locals were planning to celebrate the arrival of summer in a few days’ time. And as if the gods had finally relented, the polished armor plates of the column stretching along the road before him glittered beneath a cheering spring sun.

Ruso wondered how the soldiers stationed up on the border would greet the arrival of men from the Twentieth Legion: men who were better trained, better equipped, and better paid. No doubt the officers would make fine speeches about their united mission to keep the Britons in order, leaving the quarrels to the lower ranks, and Ruso to patch up the losers.

In the meantime, though, he was not busy. Any man incapable of several days’ march had been left behind in Deva. The shining armor in front of him was protecting 170 healthy men at the peak of their physical prowess. Even the most resentful of local taxpayers would keep their weapons and their opinions hidden at the sight of a force this size, and it was hard to see how a soldier could acquire any injury worse than blisters by observing a steady pace along a straight road. Ruso suppressed a smile. For a few precious days of holiday, he was enjoying the anonymity of being a traveler instead of a military—

“Doctor!”

His first instinct was to snatch a last mouthful of pie.

“Doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso, sir?”

Since his other hand was holding the reins, Ruso raised the crumbling pastry in acknowledgment before nudging the horse to the edge of the road where there was room to halt without obstructing the rest of the column. Moments later he found himself looking down at three people.

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