The Romans arrived across the river and lined up all the men. They took every tenth one to be made an example of and then went into the woods and cut down trees.
Soldiers pushed Adelbehrt along with the rest of the population to this field to watch. The commander of the Romans told them they must see what happened to those who challenged the might of Rome, even though they were not in the Empire. Rome must exact punishment for the raid on Mogontiacum.
Adelbehrt understood little of what had happened, but he knew a man named Julius Civilis led a rebellion against Rome and the Roman Legions on the Rhenus went to put it down. He knew some men took advantage while the soldiers were away and launched their own attacks across the Rhenus and even laid siege to the town of Mogontiacum.
He understood the legions coming back from the north relieved the siege and now the Romans had come to punish them. What he did not understand was why.
Adelbehrt tried to hold back the tears pricking his eyes. His mother stood next to him, holding his hand while they nailed the men to the crosses they had made from the trees they had cut down. Women screamed when they saw what was happening to their menfolk. One woman tried to rush to her husband, but a Roman soldier hit her with the flat of his gladius. She fell to the ground crying.
The Romans held the chosen men apart from the rest of the village. A soldier took the first man and forced him onto the cross lying on the ground. The victim kicked and shouted, but the soldiers pinned him down. A man came over with nails and a hammer.
The man on the cross began to struggle again as he saw the approaching soldier. Another soldier held the man’s arm still as the man with the hammer positioned the nail, then raised the hammer. He brought it down hard onto the nail head.The sound of the nail ripping through flesh and bone assailed Adelbehrt’s ears. The man screamed—a dreadful sound to the ears of the child. The man screamed again as the soldier drove another nail through his other wrist, then he passed out.
The soldiers nailed five men to crosses and the air filled with the metallic scent of blood. Adelbehrt did not know whether to hold his breath, close his eyes or stop his ears. Screams of the men mingled with those of the women.
The sixth man’s turn arrived. Adelbehrt heard his mother give a quiet sob. This was his father. When the soldiers laid him on the cross, his father did not struggle. He knew it would be futile. The soldier with the nails approached. Adelbehrt saw his father close his eyes and take a deep breath. When the nail pierced his flesh, his body tensed and he let out a moan. He did not scream.
Adelhert felt his chest swell. My father is braver than the others. He didn’t scream in spite of the pain.
He looked up at his mother standing calmly and with dignity, knowing hysterics would not help her husband, nor her small family. Seeing the pain in her eyes, Adelbehrt’s fists clenched at his side and his breathing quickened as he looked again at the soldiers, now raising the crosses to an upright position. These men had killed his father.
His father had been innocent of the raids. He had not taken any part, but the Romans did not care. They just wanted to punish someone—to make someone a scapegoat—so others would learn not to attack the might of Rome.
The boy pushed back the tears forming in his eyes. He could hear his little sister crying as she hung onto their mother’s leg, burying her face in her skirts, but she had only four summers, so she could be excused. His baby brother slept in his mother’s arms, ignorant of what happened around him.
He’ll never know his father. The boy looked up at the baby. He closed his eyes to force the tears back. He would never see his father again after today, either.
He forced himself to look at the crosses, searching for the one on which the Romans had nailed his father. He knew it would be the last chance he had of seeing him. He caught his father’s eyes. In spite of the pain in them, his father gave a half smile and mouthed “Look after your mother and sister.”
Adelbehrt was six, and the eldest, so he had to show courage. A slight breeze ruffled his ash blonde hair and he raised his hand to push it back out of his eyes. He didn’t want to see the horrible death his father was undergoing, but something inside told him he owed it to him to watch and remember. A tear trickled down his cheek, and he brushed it away. He must stay strong. He was now the man of the family.
After the soldiers had lifted all the crosses, the people turned away to return to their homes. Some women tried to rush to their men, but the Romans beat them away. They would allow no one to try to rescue the men. They formed a circle around the crucifixes and stood with gladii drawn.
As the boy and his family walked sadly away from the field of death a legionnaire approached his mother. She stopped and shook him off as he touched her arm.
“These are your children?” he asked in their language.
His mother looked at him, and her lip curled. “Of course.”
The legionnaire reached out to Adelbehrt and touched his hair. The boy pulled back, not wanting this man, who had been complicit in his father’s death, to touch him. He shivered as the strange man smiled at him. The boy thought he looked like a wolf.
The legionnaire spoke to his mother again. “I’ve never seen such pale hair. I see your little girl also has it. They’ll make a fortune on the block.”
Their mother looked at him in confusion. “What do you mean, ‘on the block’?”
“Oh, we’re taking a few of you as slaves. We always need more and it will teach you not to attack Rome in future.”
“You’re taking us as slaves?”
The man laughed. “Oh, not you. Just these two children. You’re not valuable, but these…”
“No! You can’t take my children,” cried the boy’s mother. “Take me, but leave my children alone. You’ve taken my husband and put him to death. Isn’t that enough?” She grabbed onto Adelbehrtand his sister, nearly dropping the baby as she did so.
The legionnaire pushed her away and roughly took the children by their arms. The boy struggled, understanding this man intended to take him and his sister away from their mother. The legionnaire pushed them in front of him towards where a group of crying children and screaming mothers stood.
His mother’s composure broke, and she began to scream along with the others as she tried to wrest her two children from the officer. It was to no avail.
Seeing his mother crying broke Adelbehrt’s resolve and he broke down into sobs, struggling against the legionnaire. He was no match for the strong Roman soldier, though, and the man pushed him towards where more soldiers held the other prisoners.
No matter how much he struggled, he could not escape the firm grip of the soldier holding him. He turned and tried to bite. The man laughed and said something in Latin to him that he did not understand. His mother tried to come to him, having handed the baby to a neighbour, but a centurion knocked her to the ground.
Adelbehrt heard him speaking to her in their language “Don’t try that again or you’ll regret it. Your tribe deserves all the punishment we mete out after your attack on us. Those children will bring a fortune with their light hair. Never seen hair like that. Almost white. They’ll go mad for them in Rome.”
He kicked out at the soldier, who then picked him up. Adelbehrt turned to bite his neck, but the man wore armour so he kicked at the man’s hips. The soldier laughed and held the boy tighter.
Adelbehrt understood it would be unlikely they would escape and that, in all likelihood, he and his sister would be separated. Would some rich Roman buy them? What would happen to them when they were no longer pretty children?
The legionnaire carried the two children to where Adelbehrt saw a small group of others being guarded by more soldiers. This group consisted mainly of young boys and men over the age of ten, with a few of the prettier teenage girls. He could see no more small children in the group.
One of the girls, whom they knew quite well as she lived near to them, came and picked his sister up, soothing the sobbing child as best she could.
“Hush, hush,” she whispered to the little girl. “I’ll take care of you and your brother. I’m sure no one will hurt you.”
“They killed my father,” Adelbehrt sniffed and wiped his nose with his hand, smearing it over his face as he wiped his eyes.
“Yes, but they were punishing him for the attack on their city. You haven’t done anything, so they won’t hurt you.”
“My father hadn’t done anything either, yet they still killed him. Why are they taking us from our mother and little brother?”
“You’re both very pretty children, you know. They haven’t seen anyone with hair as light as yours, and they think you’ll bring them a lot of money.”
“Then we’re to be slaves!”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. I am, too, and these others. They’ve taken all the boys of an age that might decide to try to take revenge, as well as a few of us girls.”
His mother managed to break away and she rushed towards the little group of slaves, calling out his name. “Adelberht, Adelberht. Look after Avelina. Don’t let anyone hurt her.”
“I won’t, Mamma. I’ll take good care of her. Odila’s here. She’ll help us.”
They crossed the river to the Roman fort of Mogontiacum. The soldiers lifted the children from the boat and a legionnaire gripped their arms, raising a bruise on Adelbehrt’s biceps. He looked towards Avelina, who was sobbing and sucking her thumb. He tried to pull away to go to her, but the soldier holding him yanked him back.
Walls surrounded the fort, all built of stone. Adelbehrt looked wide-eyed at the defences. The village where he lived had been defended by a wooden palisade. The gate through which they entered Mogontiacum soared over them. Two towers stood at either side of the gate.
Adelbehrt’s eyes opened wide as they passed through the archway
How did the men who came to raid here think they could get past these walls and gates?
Barracks stood to the left as they emerged from the gloom of the gate. A large building occupied the centre of a courtyard with another smaller one behind it. On the opposite side of the large building were more buildings.
The soldiers ushered the group of captives to a walled compound beyond the barracks and locked them in.
He understood he and his sister would probably be bought by different people, and wondered how he could fulfil his promise to his mother that he would look after her. Adelbehrt’s eyes narrowed and he pressed his lips together. They had first crucified his father, a terrible death for the young boy to witness, then taken him from his family, home and friends. He thought he would also have his sister taken from him, so he subsumed his sorrow and fear by building his hatred of his captors.
Avelina, had stopped crying and clung to Odila. He was glad of that, but wondered what would happen when she was not only taken from her mother, but from him too. Where would they take them to be sold?
Would they be sold here or taken elsewhere? Maybe even to Rome itself. What was his mother doing? Was there any chance there would be a rescue party? Could he make a break, somehow rescue his sister and get back across the river? All these questions went through his head as he sat in the compound.
A legionnaire brought some food for them to eat and water to drink. He picked at the food, but drank some water. Odila tried to persuade Avelina to eat something, but the little girl still sobbed between the small mouthfuls the older girl managed to get into her mouth. Eventually she fell asleep in Odila’s arms while still eating. The day’s events had all been too much for her.
Adelberht himself began to feel tired, but before he went to sleep, he enumerated the reasons he hated the Romans.
They crucified my father: they took my family away from me: they took my home from me: they took my friends from me: they will take my sister from me.
The next day Adelberht woke wondering where he was. Then it all came flooding back. Tears again pricked at his eyelids, but he determined he would never again cry because of a Roman. One day he would have revenge for all they had done to him. One day he would be free again. He would also find his sister and free her too, if they were separated.
Wherever the Romans took her, he would find her. After that, he would try to get back to his home across the Rhenus. He did not think about how he would carry out these plans. He would just take any chance he could when it came.
They sat in the compound all that day. The sun beat down on them, and all the slaves drank thirstily when the Romans brought water. The commander of the fort came and looked them over. He took a couple of the girls out and marched them over to the large building in the centre of the fort. Adelbehrt wondered what was going to happen to them. Were they going to be sold separately from the rest?
He thought about it for a while, then forgot about them as he tried to comfort his sister, who had begun crying again. “Don’t cry, Avelina. Everything will be all right. Somehow we’ll get away and go back to Mamma.”
The little girl looked at him trustingly, and a half-smile appeared on her face. “Back to Mamma? I miss Mamma.”
“Yes, so do I. It might not be soon, but one day we’ll escape these horrid Romans.”
“I don’t like the Romans. They killed Papa.”
“No, I don’t like them either. We’ll get away sometime, I promise you.”
He did not know how or when he would be able to keep his promise to the little girl but he determined to do so, whatever the cost. He smiled to see his words had comforted Avelina somewhat, that she had dried her eyes and sat more quietly.
Towards evening, the two girls, whom the commander had taken, returned to the compound. They entered the compound in tears. Adelberht wanted to ask them what had happened, but Odila kept him away from them. He wondered why, but she managed to distract him by talking about Avelina.
The little girl had once again started to cry, seeing the tears of the two older girls, so he did not find out what caused their upset. He did notice one of the young men, who had been courting one of the girls before they were taken prisoner, became very angry and some of his friends held him back as he tried to attack one of the Roman guards.
Two days passed. Avelina cried less, but called for their mother in the night, every night. She also began sucking her thumb again. She had almost stopped that childish habit before their capture. Adelberht also missed their mother, but he stuck to his resolve not to allow the Romans to make him cry. Even when the tears came to his eyes he managed to prevent them from falling.
Each day, the commander took one or two girls and they always returned crying. Sometimes one of the legates or centurions took a girl. They took Odila on the second day. When she came back, Adelbehrt asked her what happened, but she refused to talk of it. She seemed withdrawn after that, and sat in a corner with the other girls, not talking, but staring into space.
On the third day of their captivity, a civilian man came to the compound with the commander of the castrum. He looked the slaves over and called for Adelbehrt and Avelina to be brought to him. He asked a few questions in Latin, which Adelbehrt did not understand, but assumed they were about him and his sister. The man smiled and the two men walked away, talking.
The following morning, some men came and took all the slaves to the baths and stripped them. They washed them all thoroughly and took their clothes away. What would happen now? That question soon had an answer.
The men who washed them took them to a building in the market at the opposite side of the fort.They stood in a room, bare except for a table and chair under a window at one side. Guards stood by the only door making escape impossible. A tall man entered and sat behind the table.
The man who looked them over the previous day came in. He ordered the men to take the girls out, with the exception of Avelina. Avelina cried out to Odila and tried to run to her but one of the slaves who had bathed them, grabbed hold of her as she ran past. The Romans had taken seven girls from the village, and shortly afterwards, a slave brought two of the less pretty ones back into the room. Odila was not one of them.
Adelbehrt heard them saying the others had been bought by a brothel. He did not know what a brothel was, and the others deflected his questions when he asked. He decided, when he saw the looks of relief on the faces of the remaining two girls, that it could not be a good place. Something else to hate the Romans for. He mentally added ‘Taking Odila to a brothel’ to his list of reasons to hate them.
The man in charge hung a board around the neck of each slave. Adelbehrt later learned that it gave information about the slave, including his likelihood of running away or committing suicide as well as his name and where he came from.
They took the slaves out one at a time. He could hear noises of people calling out something outside, but could not understand the words. When the slaves returned, the man who had taken them out took them to the table by the window. People came into the room, handed over money to the man sitting there, and then left with their purchase.
Eventually their turn arrived. The slave merchant had left them until the last, and as they were led outside together, Adelberht realised they were being sold as a single lot. He could breathe once more. He could keep his promise to his mother to look after his sister.
The warm air met them and as the sun shone on his naked skin, Adelbehrt blushed at being nude in front of the crowd filling the market place. He looked around and wondered at the large numbers of people still left, since all the slaves had been sold except the two of them.
The auctioneer picked Avelina up and another man did the same with Adelbehrt and held them so everyone could see the two children. The auctioneer spoke to the crowd and pointed at the children’s blonde hair. A few aahs came from the crowd, then people began to call things out. Adelbehrt decided the people were making bids for them.
They were a popular lot, if the number of bidders was anything to go by, but soon almost everyone dropped out leaving just two men in the bidding. Eventually one of them held up his hand and turned away, thus indicating he had dropped out. The man who had brought them out led them back into the room and gave them tunics to put on.
Their purchaser walked over to the table and handed over a purse of money, which the cashier counted carefully, nodded and handed a paper to their new owner who then came over to them, took each by a hand and led them out.
Adelbehrt looked at this man. He was a tall, clean-shaven man with an aquiline nose and dark hair and eyes. He did not look unkind, but still the sort of man you would not want to annoy. He spoke to the children in a light tenor voice, but they did not understand him, so he called to a man standing near the door and spoke a few words to him.
“This man says he’s your master now and wants to know how old you are,” the man interpreted.
“I have six summers and my sister four,” answered Adelbehrt, quietly, looking down at his feet.
The interpreter spoke to their new master in Latin and then interpreted the next few sentences.
“He’s on his way back to Britannia and you’re going to accompany him there. You’re to call him ‘Dominus’. That means ‘Master’, or ‘Sir’. You now have your first word of Latin. You’ll soon learn to speak it though, so don’t worry.”
“I’m called Adelbehrt, and my sister is Avelina.” Adelbehrt told him, not knowing his name had been on the scroll round his neck.
“Well. Adelberht, you’ll be all right just as long as you do as you’re told, and show proper deference to your master and mistress. Good luck.” With that, he left them.
“What’s going to happen now?” whispered Avelina.
‘We’re going to Britannia. We must call the man who has bought us ‘Dominus’ and do as he says.”
Avelina began to cry. “Where’s Britannia? You said we’d go back to Mamma. You said you’d escape and take us back.”
“I don’t know where Britannia is, but we will escape. Somehow we’ll get away, but I can’t promise you it will be soon.”
I hope you enjoyed this extract.
It‘s only four weeks to the release of
Vengeance of a Slave.
You can pre-order it from Amazon by clicking here, or on the cover in the sidebar.