I took position on high ground and waited. Now, the time
of tense inactivity followed. Hours before the expected arrival of
the Romans, all men were in place. It was necessary.
After hours of quiet and inaction, nature, startled by the concentration
of such noise and activity of people from the last few
days, began to recover. Birds’ chirping, looking for food, floated
on the autumn air. Curious, a fawn came into the valley to drink
water, obviously accustomed to going there. Trees rustled soothingly.
Maples above me, already starting to turn yellow and red,
dropped their first leaves to the ground. A mist rose above the
valley. It had been quite cold, but as the sun rose, the fog disappeared
and it was pleasantly warm.
The air was full of indistinct vibrations. It was a sound on
the threshold of hearing, but after some time I heard it more
clearly. I pulled my binoculars out of the leather case, then carefully
wiped the lenses with a piece of linen I carried for the purpose.
I gently wiped off the moisture and looked through the
In the distance, I saw glimmering. The reflection from polished
Roman armor. I zoomed in on them. Then the Roman
soldiers became clearer. They were walking in formations of
around two hundred men. In the front line were soldiers with
heavy shields and spears. Behind them, men with spears and at
the back, men with swords walked. As well as the soldiers, there
was also cavalry. It was armed with small red shields and short
swords. Red Roman coats formed from the distant red sea, irritating
my eyes. Red plumes on Roman helmets stood up proudly
like rooster combs.
“They are coming. I can see them,” I said to Melat.
“I feel them, too. But how can you see them?” he wondered.
Wordlessly, I handed him the binoculars and showed him
how to look through them. He was staring at me amazed.
“Put them in front of your eyes,” I advised him.
When he did, he gasped in utter surprise. He dragged his
dagger out, while he dropped the binoculars. He looked around
frightened, “Gods! I swear I saw these knaves right before me!”
He pulled himself together immediately and looked at me
suspiciously. “Is that magic?”he asked threateningly.
“No magic,” I answered, laughing. “Those are binoculars.
Thanks to them, I can see further than anyone else. They magnify
anything you look at.”
“Useful thing,” he said appreciatively.
“Useful and unique. You wouldn’t find any around this world
I picked the binoculars up and cleaned the soil off them.
Looking through them, I weighed up the situation. I changed the
angle and found Odora. He was crouched in a makeshift shelter
watching the oncoming Romans. Meanwhile, they had closed in
on us. They were marching with regular military steps and irreversibly
went to meet their own destruction.
In the distance, I saw that the Romans had seen the smoke rising
from the fake camp in the village. Excitement ran through the
Roman army. My eyes stopped at Commander Severus. I didn’t
know him personally, because I had not spent much time in
Carnuntum with the Roman campaign. According to rumors,
he was a very cruel man, who replaced his strategic inability
with foolish wasting of soldiers’ lives. Looking into his face, furrowed
by expectation of the upcoming battle, showed a nasty
and brutal man.
Soldiers had just announced to him they had seen smoke,
probably from a barbarian village. Waving a hand, he ordered
they move closer to it. Although it wasn’t likely that he would
take part in an open fight, from habit he put on his helmet. Now
he looked like a majestic leader. His red coat fell loosely on his
horse’s back. Polished breastplate, probably a little gilded, shone
in the sun a little more than the armor of his soldiers. For a
moment, I felt his presence. This was his last campaign.
The Romans were approaching steadily. The sound of their
marching had already reached us. It wasn’t individual sounds,
but dark thunder, caused by thousands of feet, marching in regular
rhythm. Meanwhile, a metallic jingle reverberated, as metal
parts of their equipment and armor bumped together.
The first formation passed beneath us. Severus was close.
He looked proudly at his men from horseback. After everything
Orneus had told me about I was in doubt. I couldn’t decide
which was worse, the loss of the commander or such an incompetent
I looked at his face one more time and put the binoculars
down. Now I needed a steady hand. Several times I breathed
in and out to ready myself. Severus moved closer and closer.
Now, he was about a hundred and fifty meters away from me.
Slowly and deliberately I took up my bow. I gently passed a
finger over the body of my bow. Like the binoculars, and a few
novelties, it came from the twentieth century. These things I
had brought with me. Actually, Bernard Kraft – the Teacher –
had given them to me. It had been a long time since I had left
my home. In these dangerous times, time was moving incredibly
I shook my head vigorously. Not now! I could think about
my wife and child in a while. I have no time for that right now.
The Roman commander came forward about one hundred
and thirty steps. It wasn’t a great distance, though the target was
moving. As I noticed, he had regular speed therefore I could
guess his position. It wasn’t necessary to kill Severus, or even
strike him. If the arrow even got close enough to him, panic
would ensue. Hitting him would be better, of course. With a wet
finger I checked the direction and strength of the wind. I put an
arrow on the string and gently pulled it back. I took a shooting
position and kept watching the target. I wasn’t thinking about
Severus the man. Now he was the target.
Steady hand, sharp eye, I repeated in my mind.
Tork had taught me these spells to stabilize and balance the
heart rhythm during the shooting of a distant target.
Steady hand… I repeated for the last time.
The commander almost came within range. I was watching
him fixedly. About a hundred and ten meters were between us.
One, two, three, four, five…
I counted and checked, how far he had shifted meantime.
One, two, three…
It was time. I bent the bow and aimed carefully. I slightly
angled the bow to the left and shot. Then I immediately pulled
another arrow out of the quiver and shot quickly again. Now I
aimed at Severus’s horse. Both arrows flew through the air. In a
slight curve, they cut the air like two silver lightning bolts. Before,
I had decided not to blacken them. Reflection of the sun on their
shiny metal surface would easily disappear in the chaos of the
army. During the flight, the relatively long distance would have
changed the aerodynamic properties and I could have missed.
Two arrows, like heralds of death, approached their targets.
Severus’s horse hesitated a moment. The sensitive ears of
the animal might have heard the swishing of the arrows, but it
had to be impossible with the noise of the marching army. This
horse was a veteran of many battles and he probably saved the
life of his master.
The first arrow narrowly missed Severus’s chest and hit his
commander, who was galloping next to him. The sharp steel
point, driven by the inertia of the arrow, penetrated the man’s
protective armor. It struck his chest, where it caused massive
internal bleeding. The man grasped the feathered part of arrow
and fell off his horse.
Severus didn’t even respond when the second arrow, aimed
at the body of his horse, finally hit its target. It pinned Severus’s
thigh to the horse’s flank. When the animal felt the arrow, it
jumped in fright. Then it started to rear up in panic and pain.
That was the sign for the rest of our people. Clouds of arrows
rose up into the sky and, for a minute, they shaded the sun. Like
a swarm of bees, they arrived at their destination and showered
the Roman army. Some of them hit their targets, making the
scene look like a giant porcupine.
Chaos broke out. Soldiers were turning around helplessly,
running from the one place to another, falling down, hit by
At the same time, a roar sounded across the valley. Thousands
of barbarians screamed furiously in battle madness. Catapults
started throwing small, then bigger stones at the enemy. Falling
rocks were breaking Roman armor and smashing the confused
A dust cloud filled the valley. Occasionally, painful cries emanated
from it. Arrows were piercing the air like a bevy of birds of
prey seeking their victims and leaving a trail of destruction.
The man next to me fell, hit by a Roman arrow. Then another.
A group of Roman archers had taken their positions and were
systematically clearing the river banks. The second group, led by
a Roman commander, focused on the creek bed. Even without
Severus’s command he understood that it was the only access
road to the slope. I immediately assessed the situation.
“Roman archers! Shoot at them!” I yelled at my comrades.
“Who are you to give us orders?” objected one of them.
Old Melat heard that and screamed at him, “Listen to him,
he is right! Fire now!”
We focused our attack on the archers. After a long ten minutes,
we broke their attack. Most of them lay on the ground,
dead. They couldn’t match our technique. And, of course, our
elevated position was comparably better. From the slope, we had
them in hand. Some of the remaining archers saw the situation
and took flight. This way they just uncovered their backs for our
arrows. Within minutes no one was left standing.
Meanwhile, the Romans pulled themselves together.
Professionalism won over chaos. They created several closed formations,
in which they were covered by shields from all sides.
After that, our arrows were harmlessly hitting the shields and
After creating the formation, the situation in the valley was
a little more transparent. I guessed about half the Romans had
been killed during the first attack. Their corpses lay on the battlefield
and made the other soldiers nervous. I couldn’t see how
many wounded men there were.
Arrows stopped flying, because we understood they had
become ineffective. Catapults kept hurling rocks, but the
Romans recovered and moved into the middle of the valley, out
of reach of the stones. In closed formations, they began to walk
back in the direction they had came from, considering this way
the most certain.
I noticed movement at the end of the valley. The Germans,
led by Odora, rushed from their hiding place accompanied by
the roar of a war cry. Men in barbarian furs, with dusty and tousled
hair, heavy axes and spears.
It was a magnificent sight.
I didn’t know what the Romans were thinking at the time,
but it surely wasn’t anything cheery. It remained to rely only on
conventional warfare. They had the upper hand and they knew
it. They were walking ahead, clustered together, protected by a
Barbarians were shouting threateningly, but didn’t attack
heedlessly. This was the critical moment. We had discussed this
phase several times with Odora. I appealed to him to make sure
in advance that he had people to rely on. All men had to fulfill
his orders. If there were some men who attacked prematurely,
it would result in a huge massacre. Romans, even if they were
weakened, were still their deadly enemy.
The Romans walked steadily forward, like elephants, to
meet the Germans. Their serried formations were approaching.
Then the crowd of screaming Germans spread out. Men,
carrying rams, made their way to the forefront. The rams were
made from raw fir trunks, several meters long. They were held
in leather straps, carried by strong men. The log was tapered
to a blunt end, so the full force of impact narrowed to a small
The men with rams moved closer to the approaching
Romans. At first, they walked slowly then they gradually gathered
speed, so finally they trotted. Next to and behind them,
were many wild men expecting to fight. Screaming, they waved
heavy axes above their heads.
Rams, rumbling, hit the enemy formations. The noise of
breaking shields sounded across the valley. Raw conifer wood was
heavy by itself and threw men away like skittles. They rammed
deep into the formation, scattering the soldiers. The barbarians
immediately released the leathers straps and grabbed their axes
to spread death across the Roman lines. Other Germans rushed
in through the gaps, screaming wildly and striking one deadly
blow after another.
The Roman defense collapsed. Front formations broke
down and now there was a furious battle, man to man.
“ATTACK!” cried Melat right next to my ear.
I didn’t know what happened to me. Maybe, it was because of
the atmosphere of the struggle that mesmerized us. I felt adrenaline
pulsing in my veins and my heart rate increased. We poured
out from the riverbed and attacked the Romans. It engulfed me
totally. My mind was focused entirely on the battle.
A Roman with his sword above his head appeared in front
of me. I warded off his attack and hit him with the axe handle in
his stomach. The man leant forward slightly. That was enough, I
turned around on my axis and brought the axe from above. The
sharp blade fell on his neck and the Roman’s head rolled down
onto the battlefield in a cloud of dust.
I turned away from the body. On my right, a Roman commander
attacked Melat. The old man was nimble as a weasel.
He didn’t suffer from lack of power, but the fatigue of battle
began to show. He had some small bleeding wounds on his
face and his left foot somehow lagged behind. I brought the
axe down onto the Roman’s thigh. Blood sprayed and the man
stiffened for a moment. That was all the old man needed. He
attacked with a long dagger and thrust it into the Roman’s
“Are you all right, Melat?” I yelled at him.
“I am. Don’t worry.” He waved with a bloody hand. “Behind
I turned just in time to see a Roman rushing towards me.
I grasped the hatchet and threw it. It stuck his face, right in
the bridge of his nose. The impact sent him flying backwards.
I wasn’t sure if he was dead when I approached him on the
ground. Actually, I wasn’t interested. I was slashing around me
with the heavy axe, cutting down any Roman I could see.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a movement. I let go
of the stuck hatchet and didn’t try to pull it out. There was no
time. I dropped to the ground. Fast. A blade just missed me. I
grabbed the sword belonging to the closest dead Roman and
brought it up underneath the breastplate protecting the attacker’s
body. The blade of the sword pierced his belly and hit his
heart. He was dead before he hit the ground.
I stood up immediately. I grasped the spear stuck in the
ground and threw it into the back of the nearest enemy.
The battle engulfed me. I lifted the axe and screamed aloud.
Again, I plunged into the maelstrom of battle, wreaking havoc
around me and screaming all the time.
Romans couldn’t find a clear way through. They began to
back off. Their retreat turned into mindless escape. Then they
came to the place where the pit traps had been set. Crying in
horror, they fell in and found death on the sharp spikes. They
were struggling to get past this when they found themselves in
range of men from the wall. Unprotected by shields, they were
falling like dominoes. Legionnaires smelled the scent of death,
so were fighting like devils to try and survive.
Despite huge losses, they managed to get to the wall. Men
on the wall burnt dry grass in several places. Soon, the wall flared
with high flames. Now the Romans knew it was over. They just
couldn’t cross this barrier.
Meanwhile, Odora and his men ran towards them and the
real slaughter began. Some Romans, fearing death, tried to surrender.
They dropped swords, kneeled in an imploring gesture
of humility. The Germans, however, took no prisoners. With
diabolical screeches, they attacked their hunched enemies. They
didn’t stop until every last one of them was dead.
A victorious roar resounded throughout the valley. It was
over. I dropped to the ground, completely exhausted. The
fighting mood slowly faded and along with the decline of adrenaline,
consternation weakened me. Thousands of bloody bodies
lay everywhere around me. It was a terrible sight. I was covered
in blood too, particularly because of several wounds, but
mainly it was the blood of strangers. How many children would
be without a father after this day? They were enemies, but they
were people, too. So much spilled blood!