(The Forgotten Legion Chronicles – 1)
Northern Italy, 70 BC
The raven hopped on to the dead lamb's head and stared at Tarquinius. He was still more than fifty paces away. It croaked scornfully and pecked at the staring eyeball with its powerful beak. The lamb was no more than three days old, its meagre flesh already devoured by mountain wolves.
Tarquinius stooped, picked up a small rock and fitted it to his sling. A slight figure with blond hair, he wore a loose thigh-length tunic, belted at the waist. Sturdy sandals clad his feet.
'Spare the bird. He did not kill the lamb.' Olenus Aesar adjusted his worn leather hat, flattening the blunt peak. 'Corvus is only taking what remains.'
'I don't like it eating the eyes.' Preparing to release, Tarquinius swung the hide strap in a slow circle.
The old man fell silent, shielding his eyes from the sun. He spent a long time gazing at the broad wingtips of buzzards hanging on the warm thermals and the clouds further above.
Tarquinius watched intently, holding back the stone. Since the soothsayer had picked him as a student years before, the young Etruscan had learned to pay attention to everything he said and did.
Olenus shrugged bony shoulders under his rough woollen cloak. 'Not a good day to kill a sacred bird.'
'Why not?' With a sigh, he let the sling drop to his side. 'What is it now?'
'Go right ahead, boy.' Olenus smiled, infuriating Tarquinius. 'Do what you want.' He waved expansively at the raven. 'Your path is your own.'
'I am not a boy.' Tarquinius scowled and let the rock fall. 'I'm twentyfive!'
He scowled briefly, then let out a piercing whistle and gestured with one arm. A black and white dog lying close by sprinted off in a wide arc up the steep hillside, eyes fixed on a group of sheep and goats nibbling short grass far above. They spotted him immediately and began moving further up.