by P.G. Bell
They burned Gederus in the yard outside the barracks. Dawn had brought the first break in rain for ten days and the men, still cold and filthy from the construction work, cast anxious glances at the black weight of cloud that threatened to stamp out and drown the struggling flames. Those closest to the pyre stole a guilty pleasure from its warmth.
All except Rufinius, who stood to attention at the head of the bonfire, his nostrils thick with the smell of pitch and roasting meat.
“This man was the best of us!” His voice cracked open the still air. “A leader of men and a soldier of Rome! Today, we honor him.”
He nodded to the priests, who stepped forward and began reciting the prayers for the dead. Rufinius did not listen. Instead, he narrowed his eyes against the smoke and surveyed the army standing ready around him. A full century of men, their plate armor dull and glassy in the pale sunlight, the auxiliary soldiers and craftsmen standing in a looser huddle farther out. Surrounding them all, the fledgling stronghold of Glevum rose black and skeletal from the churned clay of the earth.