the morning following commander Paulinus's dream of the sorceress, camp routine was carried out with the same brand of excitement reserved for impending disasters-yet no man in the camp could name the nature thereof.
the men were ordered to drill until midday. at about 9 in the morning, the men could hear the approaching march of some expedition, and the sound of drums and bagpipes met their ears. the drill ceased, and the men stood to attention, as Paulinus mounted the sentry's tower. what he saw was yet another blow to his knowledge in natural studies, from which monsters were banished to the realms of myth. behind groups of infantry armed with swords sheilds and bows, marched thirty animals that looked like an african rhinoceros yet with three horns rather than two, and a strange bone-shield on it's neck. the beasts had mounts, as did the elephants hannibal brought to rome... the mounts carried lances and bows. several riders and soldiers had animal-shaped helmets like sargeant hewitt: bears, hawkes, a reptile... yet the sight that threatened to send paulinus's morning breakfast of gruel prematurely to his bowels with fear marched at the fore of the column:
it was a reptile that walked upright, about 26 feet in length from snout to tail-tip, with three-toed legs, a mouth with teeth like steak knives, and eyes like the flames of hades. it's arms were puny, however, and had two small claws. yet paulinus knew that this beast was a monarch. a tyrant lizard.
aback this juggarnaut, paulinus saw a tiny figure: a young woman, whose hair was so red, it was almost like blood. her eyes, when he saw them, weree as pale green as the skin of her mount- and as intense as it's entire entity. the column approached the camp. "sentry, seek livius,my lieutennant. inform him that under no circumstances is any of you men to leave the camp. i shall greet the party myself.now move!"
the sentry did as bidden. paulinus hurried to be seen by the approaching column. as the tyrant lizard neared him, two rhino-lizards hurriedly flanked it, their mounts ready with their bows. the beast lowered it's head gently and the young woman lithely descended to the ground. "all hail-" cried a captain.
"we may dispense with the formalities" cut the whip-voice of the young woman. "i am empress hectorine the russet-haired, ruler of the known world". she satated. "i am informed, by a certain battle-mage, that you are men known as romans, from the same world that is home to the greeks". that last was said somewhat sourly, upon seeing the roman commander's breastplate with winged horses.
paulinus took a moment to inspect the empress: she was not taller than five feet, her body so thin and wiry that even under the light mail shirt and iron leg-guards he could imagine to see abdomenal muscles and leg-tendons. she could'nt be older than sixteen, he thought, yet seemed like a scion of these strange reptiles for strength.
"greetings, imperial highness" spoke paulinus. he introduced himself, looking into those deep, metalic eyes that seemed to inspect him as he would have inspected an enemy formation in the feild. " i would see your camp" spoke the empress.
he led her through the camp, which she studied appreciatively. paulinus was surprised to see such keenness in a woman. as he looked at the men, he thought to see a similar puzzlement on their faces.
"your men may be about their tasks i would learn from you, sir roman, in your own words, your arrival in my world. i am well capable of defending myself should you have any untoward notions". of that he was certain, as well as the jaws of that reptile... they entered his tent. he offered her a chair and some wine. a breif parley followed, in which she learned of the planned revolt against emperor caligula, the discoery thereof, and the flight to ostia, under a forged commution of sentance, made by livius, in itself an injury to paulinus's honesty. he would have made martyrs of them all.
when she heard his description of the dinosaurs, she said: " the brontosaurus, triceratops and tyrannosaurus are the life-blood of our world. my own lineage claims kinship with them. learn to marshal them and you shall be rewarded. disrespect them -" the sentance needed no completion.
"you are an honest man, castor paulinus". said the empress. "i can make it happen that you and your men return to your world, and even extend some reinforcement as a gift. yet there is a price". she stood up. " prior to your arrival, my mages detected some activity from the desert regions, where the buxom sorceress you describe from your dream is currently trying to revive her ancient lover." a pause. "you and your men will be sent on a mission to gather information about her activities. magical aid will be given you along the way. learn what you may and then return." sargeant hewitt and turtledovix entered. "guide him". she commanded. they bowed. the empress marched to the edge of the camp unexcorted. paulinus walked as swiftly as he could beside her, only to catch a glimpse of her mount the aptly-named tyrannosaurus as sleekly as he would a horse. to even think of horses in a world like this was an affront, he mused.
in the tent, turtledovix explained:" apparently your arrival is a residue of the activities of the sorceress in recent times. by magical law, you and your men are to take part, at least, in the attempt to stop them". a lengthy explanation followed, about probability, attraction, paradox and time. paulinus felt that it all seemed like some mad greek play. maps were unfolded and the task was explained. "i cannot be with you in person. but i shall be alerted to any harm that comes to you". said turtledovix matter-of factly.
"and now, to the auguries". he said, producing a cage with a black cockerel.
RIP John Watkiss
6 months ago