Videssos cycle volume 2, p.1
Videssos Cycle, Volume 2, page 1
Videssos Cycle: Volume Two is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2013 Del Rey Books eBook Edition
The Legion of Videssos copyright © 1987 by Harry Turtledove
Swords of the Legion copyright © 1987 by Harry Turtledove
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Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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The Legion of Videssos and Swords of the Legion were both published in paperback in 1987 by Del Rey, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Maps by Shelly Shapiro
Cover design: Carlos Beltrán
Cover illustration: Stephen Youll
The Legion of Videssos
What Has Gone Before
Swords of the Legion
What Has Gone Before
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
THE LEGION OF VIDESSOS
For Kevin, Marcella, Tom, and Kathy
WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE:
THREE COHORTS OF A ROMAN LEGION, LED BY MILITARY TRIBUNE Marcus Aemilius Scaurus and senior centurion Gaius Philippus, were trying to rejoin Caesar’s main army when they were ambushed by Gauls. The Gallic leader Viridovix challenged Marcus to single combat. Both bore druids’ swords as battle spoil. When the blades crossed, a dome of light surrounded Viridovix and the Romans. Suddenly they were in the world of the Empire of Videssos, a land where priests of the god Phos could work real magic. There they were hired as mercenaries by the Empire.
In Videssos the city, capital of the Empire, Marcus met the soldier-Emperor Mavrikios Gavras and the prime minister, Vardanes Sphrantzes, a bureaucrat whose enmity Marcus incurred. At a banquet for the Romans, he met Alypia, Mavrikios’ daughter, and the sorcerer Avshar. Avshar forced a duel on him; but when the druid’s sword neutralized Avshar’s spells, Marcus won. Avshar sought revenge by magic. It failed, and Avshar fled to Yezd, western enemy of Videssos. Videssos declared formal war on Yezd.
As native and mercenary troops flooded into the capital, tension broke out between Videssians and the troops from the island kingdom of Namdalen over a small religious difference, with each declaring the other to be heretics. The Videssian patriarch Balsamon preached tolerance, but fanatic monks stirred the trouble into rioting. Marcus led the Romans to control the riots. As those were ending, Marcus saved the Namdalener woman Helvis. They made love, and she and her young son soon joined him in the Roman barracks.
Finally the unwieldy army marched west against Yezd, accompanied by women and dependents. Marcus was pleased to learn Helvis was pregnant, but shocked to discover the left wing was commanded by Sphrantzes’ young and wholly inexperienced nephew, Ortaias.
Two Vaspurakaners, Senpat Sviodo and his wife Nevrat, acted as guides to the Romans. Gagik Bagratouni, a Vaspurakaner noble, joined the army. When a fanatic priest, Zemarkhos, cursed him, Bagratouni threw the priest in a sack with his dog and beat the sack. But Marcus, fearing a pogrom, interceded for the priest.
At last the two armies met, with Avshar commanding the Yezda. Battle seemed a draw, until a spell from Avshar panicked Ortaias, who fled. Mavrikios Gavras was killed as the left wing collapsed, and the army of Videssos was routed.
The Romans retreated in order, collecting their womenfolk. They rescued Nepos, a priest and teacher of sorcery, and were joined by Laon Pakhymer and a band of mounted Khatrishers, giving them cavalry support. They marched eastward, harried by the Yezda.
They wintered in the friendly town of Aptos. Marcus learned that Ortaias, calling himself Emperor, had married Alypia. But Mavrikios Gavras’ brother Thorisin had retreated with twenty-five hundred troops to a nearby city. In the spring, Marcus joined him to march toward Videssos the city. Cloaked under a spell by Nepos, they crossed the narrow strip of water to the city, but found the gates slammed in their faces. No army had ever penetrated the city’s walls.
Days passed futilely, until a desperate band inside the city managed to throw open the gates. Then they drove the city forces under Ortaias’ commander Rhavas back to the palace. There Rhavas—Avshar in disguise—resorted to foul magic. But the swords of Marcus and Viridovix overcame the spell. Avshar retreated to where Vardanes and Ortaias Sphrantzes held Alypia hostage. But under pressure, Vardanes attacked Avshar, who killed him and then fled to a small chamber—and suddenly vanished.
Crowned as Emperor, Thorisin annulled Alypia’s marriage and banished Ortaias to serve as a humble monk.
But there were still troubles. Tax receipts were far too low, and ships from the island called the Key prevented supplies from reaching the city. Thorisin appointed Marcus to supervise the tax collectors. Marcus soon discovered that rich landowners never paid properly; the worst offender was general Baanes Onomagoulos, an old friend of Mavrikios Gavras. Learning this, Thorisin sent a force of Namdaleners under count Drax to deal with Onomagoulos. Marcus persuaded the Emperor to free a prisoner, Taron Leimmokheir, and give him command of the puny naval forces. By trickery, Leimmokheir managed to defeat the ships of the Key.
Meanwhile, Thorisin was sending a party to far north Arshaum for help. Gorgidas, Greek physician of the legion and close friend of Marcus, decided to go along. And at the last minute, Viridovix, escaping the wrath of Thorisin’s mistress, joined Gorgidas.
In a temple ceremony, Thorisin announced that count Drax had won a battle against Onomagoulos, who was now dead. Next—Yezd!
“TOO HOT AND STICKY,” MARCUS AEMILIUS SCAURUS COMPLAINED, wiping his sweaty forehead with the heel of his hand. In late afternoon Videssos’ towering walls shaded the practice field just outside them, but it was morning now, and their gray stone reflected heat in waves. The military tribune sheathed his sword. “I’ve had enough.”
“You northerners don’t know good weather,” Gaius Philippus said. The senior centurion was sweating as hard as his superior, but he reveled in it. Like most Romans, he enjoyed the Empire’s climate.
But Marcus sprang from Mediolanum, a north Italian town founded by the Celts, and it was plain some of their blood ran in his veins. “Aye, I’m blond. I can’t help it, you know,” he said wearily; Gaius Philippus had teased him for his un-Roman looks as long as they had known each other.
The centurion could have been the portrait on a denarius himself, with his wide, sq
“Look at the sun,” Marcus suggested.
Gaius Philippus gauged it with a quick, experienced glance. He whistled in surprise. “Have we been at it that long? I was enjoying myself.” He turned to the exercising legionaries, shouting, “All right, knock off! Form up for parade to barracks!”
The soldiers, original Romans and the Videssians, Vaspurakaners, and others who had joined their ranks since they came to the Empire, laid down their double-weight wicker swords and heavy practice shields with groans of relief. Gaius Philippus, who was past fifty, had more stamina than most men twenty and thirty years his junior; Scaurus had envied it many times.
“They’re looking quite good,” he said.
“It could be worse,” Gaius Philippus allowed. Coming from the veteran, it was highest praise. A thoroughgoing professional, he would never be truly satisfied by anything short of perfection—or, at least, would never admit it if he was.
He grumbled as he rammed his sword into its bronze scabbard. “I don’t like this polluted blade. It’s not a proper gladius; it’s too long, Videssian iron is too springy, and the grip feels wrong in my hand. I should have given it to Gorgidas and kept my good one; the fool Greek wouldn’t have known the difference.”
“Plenty of legionaries would be happy to trade with you,” Marcus said. As he’d known it would, that made the veteran clap a protective hand to the hilt of the sword, which was in fact a fine sample of the swordsmith’s art. “As for Gorgidas, you miss him as much as I do, I’d say—and Viridovix, too.”
“Nonsense to the one and double nonsense to the other. A sly little Greekling and a wild Gaul? The sun must have addled your wits.”
The tribune knew insincerity when he heard it. “You’re not happy without something to grouse over.”
“Nor are you, unless you’re picking at my brains.”
Marcus smiled wryly; there was some truth in the charge. Gaius Philippus was a more typical Roman than he in more ways than looks, being practical, straightforward, and inclined to distrust anything that smacked of theory.
They made a formidable pair, with the veteran as shrewd tactician and Scaurus, whose Stoic training and political background gave him a breadth of view Gaius Philippus could never match, as strategist devising the legionaries’ best course. Before the tribune’s druid-enchanted sword met Viridovix’ and propelled the Romans to Videssos, he had not planned on a military career, but any rising young man needed to be able to point to some army time. Now, as mercenary captain in the faction-filled Empire, he needed all his political skill merely to survive among soldiers and courtiers who had been double-dealing, he sometimes thought, since before they left their mothers’ breasts.
“You there, Flaccus! Straighten it up!” Gaius Philippus shouted. The Roman shifted his feet an inch or two, then looked back inquiringly. Gaius Philippus glared at him, more from habit than anger. His gaze raked the rest of the soldiers. “All right, move out!” he said grudgingly. The buccinators’ cornets and trumpets echoed his command, a metallic blare.
The Videssian guardsmen at the Silver Gate saluted Marcus as they would one of their own officers, with bowed heads and right fists clenched over their hearts. He nodded back, but eyed the great iron-faced gates and spiked portcullis with scant liking; too many irreplaceable Romans had fallen trying unsuccessfully to force them the previous summer. Only rebellion inside the city had let Thorisin Gavras make good his claim to the Empire against Ortaias Sphrantzes, though Ortaias was no leader. With works like the capital’s, a defense did not need much leadership.
The legionaries tramped through the gloom of the walled passageway between the city’s outer and inner walls, and suddenly Videssos brawled around them. Entering the city was always like taking a big swig of strong wine. The newcomer breathed deeply, opened his eyes a little wider, and braced himself for the next pull.
Middle Street, Videssos’ chief thoroughfare, was one Marcus knew well. The Romans had paraded down it the day they first entered the capital, made a desperate dash to the palace complex when Ortaias was toppled from the throne, and marched along it countless times on their way back and forth between barracks and practice field.
It was a slow march today; as usual, Middle Street was packed tight with people. The tribune wished for a herald like that one he’d had the first day in Videssos, to clear the traffic ahead of him, but that was a luxury he no longer enjoyed. The legionaries were just behind a pair of huge, creaking wagons, both full of sand-yellow limestone for some building project or other. A dozen horses hauled each one, but at a snail’s pace.
Vendors swarmed like flies round the dawdling soldiers, shouting out the virtues of their wares: sausages and fried fish, which had flies of their own; wine; flavored ices—a favorite winter treat, but brought in by runner in warm weather, and so too expensive for most troopers’ wallets—goods of leather, or wicker, or bronze; and aphrodisiacs. “Make you good for seven rounds a night!” the peddler announced dramatically. “Here, you, sir, care to try it?”
He thrust a vial toward Sextus Minucius, newly promoted under-officer. Minucius was tall, handsome, and young, with a perpetual blue-black stubble on his cheeks and chin. In crested helmet and highly polished mail shirt, he cut an impressively masculine figure.
He took the little jar from the Videssian’s skinny hand, tossed it up and down as if considering, and gave it back. “No, you keep it,” he said. “What do I want with a potion to slow me down?” The legionaries bayed laughter, not least at the sight of one of Videssos’ glib hucksters at a loss for words.
Every block or two, it seemed, they passed one of Phos’ temples; there were hundreds of them in the city. Blue-robed priests and monks, their shaved heads gleaming almost as brightly as the golden globes atop the temples’ spires, were no small part of the street traffic. They drew the circular sun-sign of their faith as they passed Marcus’ troopers. Enough men, Videssians and Romans who had come to follow the Empire’s god, returned it to hold their ever-ready suspicions of heresay at bay.
The legionaries marched through the plaza of Stavrakios with its gilded statue of that great, conquering Emperor; through the din of the coppersmiths’ district, where Middle Street bent to run straight west to the Imperial Palaces; through the plaza called, for no reason Marcus had even been able to learn, the forum of the Ox; past the sprawling redgranite edifice that held Videssos’ archives—and its felons as well—and into the plaza of Palamas, the greatest of the imperial capital’s fora.
If Videssos the city was a microcosm of Videssos the empire, the plaza of Palamas was Videssos the city in small. Nobles wearing their traditional brocaded robes rubbed shoulders with street toughs in puffed-sleeve tunics and garish hose. Here a drunken whore lolled against a wall, her legs splayed open; there a Namdalener mercenary, the back of his head shaved so it would fit his helmet better, haggled with a fat Videssian jeweler over the price of a ring for his lady; there a monk and a prosperous-looking baker passed the time of day arguing some theological point, both smiling at their sport.
Seeing the mercenary made Scaurus glance at the Milestone, an obelisk of the same ruddy granite as the archives building, from which all distances in the Empire were reckoned. A huge placard at its base lauded the great count Drax, whose regiment of Namdaleni had crushed the revolt Baanes Onomagoulos had raised in the westlands. Onomagoulos’ head, just fetched to the city, was displayed above the placard. The late rebel was nearly bald, so instead of being hung by the hair, the head was suspended from a cord tied round its ears. Only a few Videssians paid any attention; in the past couple of generations, unsuccessful rebels had become too common to attract much notice.
Gaius Philippus followed Marcus’ eye. “Whoreson had it coming,” he said.
The tribune nodded. “
“Nor I.” Gaius Philippus had a soldier’s respect for the Avtokrator of the Videssians, one which Thorisin Gavras returned.
The palace compound’s calm, uncrowded beauty always came as something of a shock after the ferment of the plaza of Palamas. Marcus was never sure how he would react to the transition; sometimes it soothed him, but about as often he felt he was withdrawing from life itself. Today, he decided, the plaza had been a little too strident for his taste. A quiet afternoon at the barracks doing nothing would suit him down to the ground.
“Sir?” the sentry said hesitantly.
“Eh? What is it, Fostulus?” Marcus looked up from the troops’ pay-sheet listings, looked down again so he would remember where he was, then looked up once more.
“There’s a baldy outside, sir, says he needs to talk with you.”
“A baldy?” The tribune blinked. “You mean, a priest?”
“What else?” Fostulus said, grinning; he was not one of the Romans who followed Phos. “Big fat fellow, must be rising fifty from the gray in his beard. He’s got a mean mouth,” the sentry added.
Marcus scratched his head. He knew several priests, but the description did not sound like any of them. Still, it would not do to offend Videssos’ religious hierarchy; in some ways it was more powerful than the Emperor himself. He sighed and rolled up the account parchment, tying it shut with a ribbon. “Bring him in, I suppose.”
“Yes, sir.” Fostulus saluted—Roman-style, with outthrust arm—then spun smartly on his heel and hurried back to the doorway. The hobnails in the soles of his caligae clicked on the slate floor.
“Took you long enough,” Scaurus heard the man grumbling as Fostulus led him back to the little table in the rear corner of the barracks hall that the tribune used as a makeshift office. Marcus rose to greet him as he approached.
by Harry Turtledove have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes