Marcus Flavius Aquila is a resourceful young cohort commander, proud of the men under his command, and merciful on a defeated gladiator (Esca) whom he buys as his slave. Esca is actually a British tribesman, and when Marcus buys him from the circus, the two become more friends than master and servant.

Marcus is invalided out of the army, so he undertakes to travel north in an attempt to retrieve the Eagle emblem of the vanished Ninth Legion. The emblem was lost under his father’s command ten years prior. Esca goes with him, and the two must pass beyond Hadrian’s Wall into the wilds of Scotland, controlled entirely to the “Painted People”, the tribesmen of the north. Cottia, a young British woman brought up in the Roman ways, befriends Marcus and waits for him to return from his dangerous journey.

A mixture of historical authenticity and readable simplicity the author depicts a set of characters who inhabit that mixed world of Roman Britain. They live and move within that environment, with the reader’s ironic knowledge that in just a few hundred years it will all, in a sense, have been in vain.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London.  He also is the editor of the Good-to-Read website.