For The Love of An Enemy: A Short Story.
Hey folks, I hope you are well and enjoying the summer. Sorry I’ve not published something for a little while: my account’s been funny. Here is a short story that I wrote when I was on holiday in Northumberland and visited Housestead’s Roman Fort and saw Hadrian’s Wall for the first time!
I also have my mother to thank for the writing of this story as she was the one who suggested it. I hope you enjoy it. And here Ladies and Gentlemen is the story of…
Stefanius shivered as a bone-chilling breeze blew over the frigid and expansive landscape. It might be June but here at Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall the earth showed no sign of it. Pine trees were protruding onto the path and thistle flowers popped up in surprising places.
“All clear, Stefanius Vitus?” barked the commander.
“All clear!” Stefanius called back.
He had been in his post all morning and by now was truly bored. He tried to entertain himself by naming as many colours as he could in the surrounding area. Brown, black, grey, green… Stefanius sighed. This was his life. The life of a common Roman soldier. One who had been sent to the freezing fields of Brittania, one had sworn to serve and protect his empire as best he could.
This had, of course, been exciting at first but now he had gotten used to the routine it thrilled him no longer. Only in the hours that soldiers sparred with one another to keep fit, did Stefanius find any amusement at all. Oh, how he wished for a real battle…
Over the rough stony Wall and across the jaggedy hills, there lay a Celtic Caledonian settlement of local tribespeople. In one of the little mud roundhouses lay a fire and a girl, burning away her thoughts into smoke. She too longed for something daring to do, something worth doing, worth living for.
This girl’s name was Cailín. She had hay-coloured hair and eyes of the freshest grass.
“Cailín? Cailín? Are you there?”
Cailín looked up to where the soft sound of her friend Ailsa’s calling was coming from.
“I am here,” she heard herself say.
Light, quick-paced footsteps and Ailsa’s cheery face appeared in Cailín’s view.
“What are you planning, Ailsa?” Cailín asked as she saw the familiar sparkle of mischief in her friend’s eyes.
“Well…” Ailsa started carefully. “Do you want to do something a little bold and daring?”
“What did you have in mind?” mused Cailín. She felt intrigue stirring in her chest and her pulse went double-quick. It was time to leave her boredom behind…
“Come on Cailín!” came the shout of Ailsa as the two of them wound their way through the folds of the forest.
“I’m coming,” Cailín replied, holding up her skirt to avoid the clumps of spikey thistles.
“Race you to the Wall,” she cried to Ailsa.
And the two of them ran, skipping joyfully over star-moss and bounding wildly through brambles. Cailín led them onwards. The Wall loomed nearer and nearer…
Stefanius stared absently ahead over the imposing forest. Crack! Stefanius whipped his head round.
Something was moving those hawthorn bushes. Just a deer, he told himself to ignore it. In his gut though he knew it was too large to be a deer.
“Why don’t you go check that out, Stefanius?” suggested his fellow fighter Flavius Vergilius. “I’ll take your post.”
He climbed slowly down the steps to the other side of the Wall.
“Show yourself and I shall not harm you,” Stefanius shouted to the hidden enemies. He tried to stand tall and proud against the wind. Suddenly Stefanius stopped short…
Cailín’s arms were tickled by the long grass as she snagged her skirt on the hawthorn. As she tried in vain to remove herself she heard the deafening clank of Roman bronze creeping closer and closer.
In desperation she finally managed to tear herself away from the tree. Whilst she did so she heard one of the soldiers shout “Show yourself and I shall not harm you.”
Maybe it was the force from tearing herself away that propelled her into the open or maybe she’d stumbled. Either way, she was now left standing face to face with the Roman soldier.
Cailín felt all the breath leave her body. He just stood there. In all his entirety. His brass helmet, red tunic and leather topped with chainmail, all the way down to his hobnailed boots.
Cailín looked into his eyes. They seemed to mirror her own fear, curiosity and a hint of admiration.
Something in his face seemed to harden and he clumsily fumbled for his sword to point it shakily at her. She deftly drew her own dagger in response. They circled each other slowly, unsure what move their opponent might try.
“What do you want?” the soldier’s voice wavered.
“Nothing, I only sought an adventure,” came Cailín’s reply.
“Leave now and I shall say it was only a deer,” he offered.
“Don’t you wish to see what this deer’s made of?” she quirked at him.
The soldier smiled.
His was a genuine pleasing smile, fresh as a bird’s egg.
“Alright,” he said.
Just then footsteps could be in the distance. Twigs cracking coming nearer and nearer and the cry of “Cailín? Cailín?” echoing through the glade.
Oh Great Beira! It’s Ailsa, thought Cailín.
The soldier seemed to sense her panic as he sheathed his sword and said “meet me here after dark, no weapons.”
“For neither of us?” she pressed.
“Neither of us,” he repeated.
“Alright,” Cailín agreed, sheathing her own blade. “Until, the moon shall light our way,” she said.
He nodded and left.
“My goodness Cailín, you have quite the appetite for long running,” retorted Ailsa as Cailín turned around to face her friend.
“And for adventures,” she whispered happily to herself…
“What was it?” Flavius asked when Stefanius returned to his post.
“Only a beautiful wild deer,” came Stefanius’ unusually exhilerated reply. As he resumed his position, he could think of nothing other than the surprising evening to come…
Two weeks later:
Ailsa and Cailín were out foraging together, brushing their way past tips of cold dew, which clung to the clusters of grass. Cailín had some news she had to tell Ailsa. It was big news, humongous news, and she needed to break it to her friend gently.
“Ailsa?” she said carefully.
“Yes?” her friend turned to her, a dry hard dandelion root in her hand.
Cailín took a deep breath in and out.
“I’m getting married,” she blurted.
Ailsa dropped her root.
“What?” she asked, astonished.
“I’m in love,” Cailín told her. “I met a Roman soldier. His name is Stefanius and he’s amazing. He’s caring and loving and fun. So full of life. We’ve been meeting every night by the Wall, hidden in stretches of shadow. He asked me yesterday and I said yes. I had to. I love him, Ailsa.”
“What I am to tell Fearghas and Glenna?”
“Mama and Papa will be fine; they have the whole village to look after. I will reinvent myself. Stefanius and I agreed. I will now be known as Camilla Slyvia Marius and not Cailín Sorcha. We are to be wed tomorrow,” she said excitedly.
“Well, if this is what you want to be happy, then you have my blessing,” Ailsa embraced Cailín and the two friends squeezed hands for the very last time…
Five weeks later:
And so Stefanius and Cailín were wed to the chirping of blackbirds and many happy days unfurled in front of them, lining the weeks with love.
Stefanius was promoted to a higher position. Cailín became friends with the local Romen women.
Those days seemed never ending, as if they could curve on beyond the horizon. Then one day Cailín discovered something extraordinarily beautiful. All that love and joy had produced another life, a life which now lived inside her. Everything was excellent. All was well and just as it should be.
It was not to last.
One day Stefanius was called upon. The Celts from Caledonia were advancing. They wished to conquer the Wall and take back Brittania.
Cailín was four weeks pregnant and so stayed at their villa. She has begged him not to go, for she knew nothing good would come of it. It was her friends and family against her one true love. Stefanius however, knew he had to go, otherwise he could be killed for disobeying orders.
The battle was fierce. The Romans had numbers but the Celts had fire.
Stefanius had been bred for this. He made kill after kill, not pausing to think. And then a scream. A scream so torn and choked with betrayal. A scream from a throat that Stefanius knew so well.
He looked over his shoulder. There was Cailín with their child in her womb standing on top of the Wall. she was screaming, screaming her heart out over the Wall.
Stefanius turned to look at his latest victim. Ailsa lay lifeless at his feet. His sword was dipped in a friend’s blood and therefore it also held his wife’s blood, his child’s blood.
The Romans won that day.
Stefanius knew not at what price.
Within the minute he had killed Ailsa, he had killed his wife and their child with her. He was never to see her again. She had disappeared over the hills and did not return.
Thanks for reading,