Maximus raced his trusted steed toward the river.
Just a few minutes ago, his units were holding the line in the forests near Isurium Brigantum. It was a bright and sunny morning; and the trees cast their shadows upon the soldiers as they gazed intently into the foliage.
The past few days had not seen any action with the enemy. The barbarians hadn’t moved from their positions. Maximus would hear their primal yells and grunts echoing through the forests. It was an eerie sound, sending a chill down his spine even to this day – for he was a veteran campaigner of the Roman Legion, having faced many a barbarian army in Gaul.
He glanced up as he heard a loud rustle of leaves and a flock of birds suddenly took flight from the top of the trees. And then he ducked, as if by instinct, and a large battle axe with razor sharp edges flew just above his head, embedding itself in a tree trunk.
Then the barbarians charged, large fierce men with beards till their waists, screaming battle cries of the kind he had never heard before.
He fought them off, two at a time, with his sword in one hand and shield in the other. But there were hundreds of them, maybe thousands, crashing through the trees. How did they manage to sneak up on his men in such large numbers? For the first time in his military career, Maximus felt outmanoeuvred.
There was no point attempting to hold their ground. His men were well trained, but eventually they would be overrun and slaughtered. These were good soldiers, and he would save them for another battle. A tactical retreat to fortified positions on other side of the river was in the offing.
Maximus gave the order and his units fell back, some on foot, others mounting their horses. The barbarians charged after them, bursting through the forest cover into the open ground.
Maximus’s horse had just entered the river when a spear zipped through the air and pierced his leg. His horse reared in panic, lost its footing in the rush of the river and crashed on top of him. Maximus couldn’t breathe. He flailed his arms weakly and went underwater.
As Maximus drowned, he heard a faraway voice speaking words that sounded strangely like Roman numerals, but backwards…
Five, four, three, two, one…
Anna awoke, gasping for air, on a sofa in the office of her therapist, who specialized in past-life regression hypnosis. She now understood. The nightmares and her fears…
Author’s note: On a trip to England in July 2010, I found myself on the banks of the River Nidd in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. In the 1st century AD, Roman legions marched through this region and established a fort called Isurium Brigantum in present day Aldborough.
Pictures taken with my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S40.