Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising Book Series Preview
The Gods & Heroes team is happy to reveal the first excerpt from the the upcoming book series based on Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising. Book one of the series is titled, “Blood and Laurels” and we have Excerpt I for you today. Excerpt II will be revealed next Friday, September 16th. The series is being written by an award-winning author; more will be revealed as we get closer to publishing the first novel.
Book One of the Gods & Heroes Series
As he did every morning, ten-year-old Atellus wound his way over a trail worn smooth by the feet of his ancestors with a hoe slung over his shoulder. He had been charged by his mother with keeping the weeds out of her melon patch. The task was done. However, he was not returning to the Camillus villa where his tutor waited to pound into him more Greek and Latin, math, and astronomy. He was off on an adventure. At least, he would pretend he was. Sometimes, he would steal figs and grapes from a neighbor’s orchards. Other days he would form up imaginary battle lines with two or three slaves who humored the young master when their duties permitted.
Today he was off to play at war. Alone. He would much rather have been with his father and older brothers, who were away fighting in the Roman Legion. Yet he was not growing as quickly as his brothers had. He was small and could not yet wield a real lance or sword. That did not discourage him. Since there was no armor to spare for him, he had fashioned what he could. His shield was a cast off ceramic pot lid. His hoe was his weapon. Just a week ago, he had snared and killed a wolf. On this day he wore with pride the wolf skin headdress he had made of the pelt. It was the mark of a velite.
His father would have been horrified, had he known about it. “You are a patrician, heir to your mother’s noble Fabius and my Camillus family ancestries. Yet you dress up as the poorest common foot soldier! It is an abomination!” No doubt, a cuffing of the ears would have followed. Similar speeches were repeated often enough for other reasons.
Atellus paused, pushed back his headdress, and lifted his face to the sky to make his daily vow to the Latin Goddess of War, Bellona, more ancient than many of the Roman gods.
“By Bellona’s sword! Make me big enough and strong enough so that I may fight for Rome and cover my family name in glory!” In the rustic stillness of early morning, his dream open loud seemed more fanciful than ever.
He walked on, deviating from the path to climb to the crest of a hill where he sometimes stood looking at the world rolling away in swells of green hills and pretend he was conqueror of all he viewed.
On this morning, however, as he approached the summit the morning quiet was abruptly shattered by full-throated cries of battle and the thundering of running feet. More excited by the clamor than afraid, Atellus rushed forward to discover the source of those sounds. The sight that met his gaze caused him to stumble to a halt with mouth agape.
In the valley between the crest of the hill on which Atellus stood and the next, fifty armed men, many of them naked and their pale bodies brightly painted with unfamiliar symbols, were in full frontal attack. The target of their assault stood just below Atellus, on the downward slant of the hill.
The smaller army of men carried swords and shields painted red with brass eagle wings; the crest of the Roman Kingdom. Yet one man stood out among them. The golden eagle perched on his helmet proclaimed his fame.
Atellus gasped in awe. All Rome knew this warrior’s name. It was Titus Aureolus Flamma, legendary hero of Rome, said to be the mortal son of Apollo. Legend claimed his sword was a gift from Vulcan, and that as long as he held it he could not be defeated in battle.
Shivering with excitement, Atellus hunkered down to watch. He could not believe his luck. He was about to witness the fabled hero in action. Even so, he could help a flutter of uneasiness as he noticed that Flamma’s men were out-numbered five to one.
That did not seem to dismay Flamma’s men. The Romans stood firm, shoulder to shoulder with shields up and swords drawn as the first wave of invaders launched arrows and flung javelins. Only when the first few succeeded in reaching them did the legion come to life.
Flamma led the charge, holding his sword aloft as he cried, “By Jupiter’s might!”
He tore into the first man, opening him from shoulder to groin with the blindingly quick slash. Wielding his sword with deliberation and skill, he struck blow after blow as the golden rays of the sun glinted off his blade, dealing death to every enemy he encountered. His men fought with the same ferocity. The clash of weapons, fierce bellows of bloodlust, and screams of the mortally wounded filled the morning yet the odds were not in the Romans’ favor.
After a moment, Atellus tore his gaze from the melee and backed away. Flamma had the favor of Jupiter, King of the sky. Even so, Atellus thought it might be wise to seek the help of the warrior goddess whose lands these were.
Kneeling in the grass, he quickly emptied his pouch of figs and nuts then poured his full day’s supply of water over his meager offering.
Suddenly the earth beneath him shook with a violence that sent a way of nausea through his belly. On the horizon, the sky began to cloud as bilious curdles of murky vapors erupted from the crumbling cauldron of an ancient and long-silent volcano.
When he whipped his head around to gaze toward the valley below the battlefield had altered. Instead of an army of barbarians, the Romans were now surrounded by malevolent creatures with fangs, the heads of beasts, with wings and carrion beaks.
The hairs lift on Atellus’s arms. These new enemies were things of nightmare, as if Tartarus has vomited up its evil contents.
Ten Cyclopes twice the height and three times the weight of a normal man advanced on Flamma’s men, armed with clubs and axes. Even as Flamma struck a mortal blow to one of them, sending a spray of black blood into the sky from its severed neck, another used his club to cut down three of his comrades, who toppled like wheat before a scythe. Before Atellus’s horrified eyes, another, then another, then three more dropped, their heads pulped by one mighty swing of the one-eyed giants’ clubs.
Shaken out of his trance by the slaughter, Atellus leaped to his feet and cried, “Great and fearless Bellona! Roman heroes take to the battlefield! I beg you multiply the destructive powers of their blows that they may plow your fields with the blood and sinew of these putrid fruits of hell!”
Fear for his own life forgotten, he ran toward the battle with nothing but an old hoe in hand. He might be a mere boy but he could not simply watch them die without trying to help. After all, his father had left him in charge. These evil beings would surely destroy everything in their path if they were not defeated.
Just as he reached the edge of the battle he felt a hand fall lightly on his shoulder. He swung around, expecting to do battle. Instead he saw a lovely woman standing before him. Neither young nor old, she wore full armor and a helmet, and a sword that gleamed like a comet. He recognized her from the small statue kept in an honored place in his home. This was the goddess Bellona.
“This need not be your battle, little one. But if it be so then fight with the heart of a man.” With that she walked past him and disappeared into the fray.
Before he could respond a bellow of rage alerted him to the creature with a scythe headed straight for him. Half goat and half man, with bloodied twisted horns sprouting from his forehead, the monstrous being wore a grin that seemed to savor the boy’s imminent death.
Fear clutching his heart, Atellus lifted his hoe and swung it. The contact of his weapon with flesh and bone jarred his entire body, and he closed his eyes in anticipation of the blow he expected in return. It did not arrive…