Do the Gods control the destiny of men?
Can the dead avenge themselves?
Captain Varro of the Fourth Army is about to have the worst day of his life, but in the face of hopeless odds, Varro will find justice, honour, friendship, love, and the favour of Gods.
In solving a personal mystery, Varro stumbles across a twenty year old tale of treachery and violence that threatens once again the security of the Northern Provinces.
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The Worlds of S.J.A.Turney
A novel of murder, treachery, intrigue and revenge set in the same world as Interregnum, two decades after the events of that book. For more details visit www.sjaturney.co.uk
"So, engineer... how best do we do this?" the scarred veteran enquired.
Salonius led his horse over to Catilina, casting a professional eye over the tree and the ropes as he walked.
"Take her across with you," he asked Catilina. She nodded and took the young man's reins, leading the horse ahead and over the bridge.
Salonius turned back to Petrus.
"Catilina and I need to get out ahead. Then you both need to walk forward onto the bridge until the ropes are taught; they're obviously different lengths. Once they're tight, start stepping forward very slowly and in unison. Try not to jerk too much. Very slow but very steady. Constant pressure's what we want. I've given you a good start low on the trunk, so once you reach breaking point, the whole thing will come down very, very quickly."
Petrus and Varro shared a look.
"The ropes are long enough" Salonius went on, "that you'll be well out of the way on the other side of the bridge by then, but you need to stop the moment the tree comes down, or you might drag it into the river or even across the bridge. Got all that?"
"Slowly forward, stop when it goes bang. Think I can just about master that" grumbled Petrus.
Salonius gave him what he hoped was an infuriatingly condescending smile and walked ahead of them onto the bridge. He stopped at the centre, shaded his eyes and carefully judged the length of the ropes, the size and angle of the tree trunk and the location of the cut he'd made. Hoping beyond hope that his calculations were correct, he leaned down low and selected one of the largest stones mortared into the bridge parapet around half way up.
Giving the mortar around the stone an experimental prod, he was pleased to see that a mere poke with a finger brought a flood of crumbled mortar like sand in an hourglass. Quickly and efficiently, he dealt a dozen blows with his pick, removing the mortar around the stone. Satisfied, he leaned out over the parapet and, quickly locating the outer face of the stone, he repeated the process there.
Hanging the pick on his belt, he gave the great stone a heave and grinned as it smoothly slid out of the bridge wall and disappeared into the rushing water with a deep and resounding splash.
Running across the bridge he saw Catilina more than twenty yards from the bank, staying well back. He jogged across to her and, retrieving his reins, vaulted onto the horse. Catilina gave him a friendly smile and then turned to watch the cousins slowly manoeuvring onto the bridge, the ropes raising from the floor behind them and slowly tightening.
Salonius sat fidgeting, tapping his fingers nervously on the pommel of his saddle. He began to worry that the ropes would be too old and weak, or his cut in the tree not deep enough. Perhaps the tree was tougher than he'd anticipated, or the horses too tired. Perhaps...
The break came so suddenly and crashed to the ground so noisily that all four horses started. As Salonius and Catilina steadied their startled mounts, the young man watched in mild panic as Petrus and Varro tried to stop their horses bolting, still attached to the tree that lay, still shaking and vibrating on the grass eight feet from the far side of the bridge."
Varro wheeled his horse, bucking and thrashing.
Petrus was having more luck, his horse now merely snorting and the eyes rolling as it craned its neck to see the rustling tree it was still attached to.
"For Gods' sake get him under control!" yelled the young engineer.
Catilina pointed at the tree and Salonius narrowed his eyes, trying to discern what it was she was indicating, when his eyes refocused and he realised she hadn't meant the tree. She was pointing between the branches at the shapes of riders cresting the hill on the far side of the village.