Constantinople understood all too well the threat posed by Attila. In an effort to placate him and keep his focus on other targets, Eastern Rome paid him a great many tributes in gold, the delivery of which was not a task for the faint of heart…
Taking a swing at Clavius bought me two weeks behind bars. Well, he asked for it didn’t he, carrying on about my mother like that! It wouldn’t have seemed so bad if his nose hadn’t gone and split, the soft sack of dung. I remember saying, you look like you’ve just had a word with The Hun himself, hah! What a mess. The Tribunus didn’t see the funny side of course, and I don’t think breathing wine-fumes over him while explaining I wasn’t on duty for another hour helped.
So, two weeks in the carcer.
Couple of days into my sentence, and I’m just settling down for the nightly round of insults from the next cell when the Tribunus comes rattling my bars and grinning like a Satyr. Tells me I’ll be out at dawn out as he’s got an important detail for me. “A task of great significance!” he proclaims grandly, before sauntering off with a guffaw.
I wish to God I was back in there. We all do.
We’re three weeks out of Constantinopolis now, our caravan winding north-east through Ostrogoth country. There’s forty of us in all, veterans to a man. We’ve had a couple of run-ins with the locals already, but we fly the eagle at all times, the toff in charge has a quick tongue in his head and he bears the seal of Emperor Arcadius himself. The Goths seems to respect that, and they back off when they figure out who we are. They know where we’re bound and what our cargo is, and I think they fear the consequences of it not reaching its destination as much as we do.
Doesn’t stop us being nervy though. We keep a round-the-clock watch, and on the rare occasions we pause to get our heads down for a few hours, we do it battle ready: armour on, spears to hand. Not what you’d call comfy, but it does give you the confidence to drift off for a bit.
Yesterday we picked up a shadow in the shape of a pair of riders. They stay mostly out of sight but they’re keeping tabs on us all the same, and given their dark leathers and the bows on their backs, none of us is under any illusions about who they work for.
The toff says we’ll pick up a proper escort when we reach the great grasslands. It’s not his first run by all accounts, so I trust what he says, but there’s no telling if it’ll be his – and our – last. We wouldn’t be the first tribute caravan to disappear. You hear tales about The Hun, and what he does to Romans when the mood takes him.
Hopefully the gold will keep him sweet. I’m just glad I won’t be doing the talking.