Finally reaching his horse, he fell on his knees and gently rubbed its forehead. “You will be fine,” he whispered, pressing his head against the stallion’s muscular shoulder. “You saved my life.”
As he stroked the thick black mane, he could feel his soul connect to the horse. At that instant, he realized what Catrin meant when she told him that he had the spirit of a horse. His loyal and trustworthy Bucephalus had remained at his side in the thick of battle. He hesitated to leave his gravely wounded horse, even though Gallus gripped his arms and yelled, “You have to fall back.”
To Marcellus’s horror, a horn-helmeted warrior thrust his sword into Gallus’s side. Hearing the centurion’s agonized cries plunged Marcellus into a state of crazed fury. He drilled his sword into the heart of Gallus’s attacker.
With his second-in-command injured, Marcellus led the counterassault against the savages who were worse than vermin in his eyes. Rage boiled in his chest as he forged his fear and self-doubt into fiery fury. In the chaos of the melee, he screamed over and over, “No mercy! No mercy!”
Ignoring the pain in his leg, Marcellus ran at battle speed alongside his swift foot soldiers. He swung, thrust, and thrashed his sword at every enemy warrior within reach. Rage ruled his emotions, sweeping away all reasoning. Seeking raw revenge, he roared to his men, “Kill them all. No prisoners!”
The auxiliary, under Drustan’s command, blocked the rebels from escaping to the thick woods. The Roman infantrymen circled the surviving barbarians near the forest edge for the final massacre. At the command of Marcellus, his men thrust their weapons at every trapped man, woman, or child. Shrieks resonated over the battlefield as enemy bodies fell, splattering blood and spongy tissue everywhere. As Roman trampled over bodies, they drove their spears and swords into the heads, throats, or chests of any moving body and slit their throats with daggers.
Marcellus quickly stepped over the bodies on the blood-soaked field, scanning for any movement like an eagle searching for its prey. The stench of feces assaulted his nostrils when he stepped on unraveling bowels. Incensed, Marcellus targeted a body crawling away from him. He yanked the warrior’s head back and slit the throat with his dagger.
Taking a closer look at the enemy he had killed, Marcellus recoiled with the sight of the slashed throat of a fair-skinned woman. She was about the same age as Catrin. Her turquoise eyes were gaped open as her blood spurted on his hands.
Repulsed, Marcellus yanked his bloody hands away. The stark reality that mutilated bodies were all around him finally struck him like a brick. Ravens swarming down on the battlefield to feast on the dead’s tissues jolted his senses. The stench of victory—blood, piss, and shit—saturated the misty air. Only then, he realized his troops had slaughtered entire families of fathers, mothers, and their children.
Battle-fatigued, Marcellus limped back to his wounded horse. A profound sadness overwhelmed him as he knelt to say good-bye to Bucephalus. He gently rubbed the noble horse’s forehead and muzzle.
“I feel your spirit,” he said softly.
The horse’s dying breath whispered into Marcellus’s heart.
The clash of weapons was replaced with the loud bickering of ravens fighting over corpses.
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