The tang of blood and brine filled the air. The turquoise sea was streaked with gore. The clash of arms and blood-curdling screams drowned out the sound of the sea breeze. The Tenth had landed upon the beach, but it not captured it.
"Teucer, climb upon that rock there and start loosening some arrows into some of these bastards," Oppius exclaimed whilst surveying the field of battle. The Tenth had landed upon the right side of the beach and upon the left the Seventh were taking casualties, but advancing nevertheless. Their enemy was fighting ferociously, but they were ill disciplined. Their light armour and weaponry made them agile but the legions were used to fighting against similar foes in Gaul (albeit the Britons seemed to have more spirit, perhaps fuelled by more wine). The standard bearer noticed an island of resistance forming at the back of the beach - centred around a giant Briton who appeared to be wielding a huge hammer. He was swotting away legionaries like flies, with shields buckling under the weight of his heavy blows.
"Roscius, bring down that fat bastard with the hammer. He's boring me."
Roscius made his way towards the heart of the fighting, whilst Oppius was heartened to see how a group of Roman infantry had formed a square at the other end of the beach. A line of shields surrounded a group of legionaries, who were unleashing their pilums into a mass of enemy cavalry.
"What would you like me to do sir?" Fabius asked, trying to dispel the fear from his voice and features.
"Just stay close to me lad and try not to get yourself killed."
Roscius assessed his enemy as he marched purposefully towards him. The savage brute was strong, but overweight and predictable. A half a dozen men from the Seventh formed a semi-circle around the barbarian, but they were wary of closing in having witnessed their comrades fail to bring the giant down.
"Hey, shithead, why don't you pick on somebody your own size?" Roscius announced, whilst throwing down his shield. The scutum would be an encumbrance for what the legionary had planned.
The wild-eyed Briton stood even taller and wider than Roscius, a mix of flab and muscle. Blood - that of his foes rather than his own - flecked his face. He growled and ran towards the Roman, lifting the fearsome hammer above his head. Roscius moved just in time however and the large iron head of the mallet thudded into the sand, at which point the legionary swiftly lifted his foot up and brought it down upon the shaft of the weapon, splitting it in two. The Briton, his face twisted in even greater rage, swung what was left of the shaft at Roscius' head but the Roman swung his sword in return and the gladius truncated the oak shaft even further. The blade of the sword met the barbarian's fist too when he then swung a punch. His blood flecked the legionary's face and he howled in pain - before the savage fell to his knees and Roscius buried the gladius in his chest.
"Never send the Seventh in to do a job that only the Tenth can do," Roscius declared with relish at the end.
Oppius glanced across the beach and nodded in approval at Rocius having defeated the troublesome barbarian. He was also pleased to see that his friend had come through the fight uninjured. The standard bearer again surveyed the battlefield. The tide was turning Rome's way. The Britons were retreating as reinforcements now landed upon the beach without opposition. Caesar himself was leading a cohort from the front and spurring his men on. The standard bearer ordered Teucer to try to bring down a couple of the cavalry horses who were escaping up a narrow track that led up to the top of the cliffs. Should he fell the animals then they would hinder the retreat of the rest of the cavalry and infantry retreating up the path. A number of enemy archers and peltists still lined the tops of the cliffs and covered the retreating forces however.
One such archer drew back his bow, with the standard bearer in his sights. The Briton had watched both his courageous leap into the water and his marshalling of legionaries as they arrived upon the beach. Both had been crucial to the imminent victory. At least he would stop the standard bearer invading Briton. His arms bulged with muscle as he drew the bow back, yet despite the tension in the string his body remained calm, composed. He took a deep breath and then released the arrow. His skill and technique as an archer were not dissimilar to Teucer's.
Oppius remained blindsided and did not notice the missile whistling down from above, aiming straight for his chest. The force of the arrow was such that it would piece through his breast plate - but yet it only went so far as to pierce through Marcus Fabius' shield. The youth had seen the arrow and, positioned just next to Oppius, had reacted with speed and bravery to move his scutum aloft and across in time.
Both Oppius and Fabius looked up at the cliffs to see where the missile had come from. The would-be assassin wore a scowl upon his face and pointed down at the standard bearer - and then drew a line across his neck. The Briton also wore a number of bronze bangles and an elaborate necklace to signify his importance. Before Oppius could scrutinize the savage more he spat out an indecipherable curse, turned away and disappeared.
"It seems that that you've made an enemy already. At least it's unlikely that you slept with his wife. But he was keen on killing you it seemed," Roscius exclaimed, walking towards his friend.
"If that's the case then the bastard can get in the queue. Now I suppose I better thank you lad for saving my life. I owe you one. Let this be a lesson to you though. The shield is mightier than the pen. I for one am glad your father wants you to be a soldier rather than poet."
Marcus Fabius smiled, but blushed too. He was pleased that he had earned the standard bearer's respect.
"I'm wondering if I should join that queue," a stern voice issued from behind the standard bearer. Oppius turned to see Caesar standing before him, his face unreadable. Lucius had hoped that Caesar would have witnessed his bravery earlier, but his actions in putting the eagle at risk could as easily meet with punishment, as opposed to a reward. The legionary stood to attention before his commander, unable to look him in the eye, awaiting his fate.
"After your actions today I cannot now have you serve as a standard bearer to the legion."
Oppius' heart sank, in unison with his face dropping. He felt too sorrowful, ashamed, to feel anger.
"No, your actions today have left me with no other choice but to promote you to the rank of centurion," Caesar exclaimed, his marble features breaking out into a smile. Caesar then approached Oppius and warmly clasped him upon the shoulder.
"Now stand at ease. I should be saluting you. I'm still undecided as to whether you're mad, or just lucky, but I'd like you to join me for dinner this evening so I can finally make up my mind."