The villagers had thrown back their hoods and the announcement of the soldiers' impending arrival brought a spate of curses and questions. Declan threw up his hands and called for silence.
"Why are the soldiers comin' here?" Declan asked.
"Are you chief?'
"I am the leader of this village; now answer my question. Why are they comin' here?"
Conor appeared satisfied. "They come for the runaway slave. We've had spies on 'em as soon as they landed ashore, and one of them spoke the name of this village and of Gwydion."
There was more uproar from the crowd, more confused shouting. Aiobh began to work the crowd, calming as she came through them. Toby wanted to hear more and stepped forward until he was standing the other two runners. They weren't speaking, satisfied to let Conor do all the talking for them. They must have been back up, in case not all of them made it.
"Now, wait," Liam broke in. "How did they know to come here?"
"Does it matter, Liam?" Declan said. "They know to come."
Gwydion joined the small knot as soon as he heard his name mentioned. "They know because I had to tell 'em where I was from. Bloody Romans are more concerned with their record keepin' than any other I know. They set great stock by the letters and papers they keep."
Several more men joined the knot, now. Toby recognized Seamus, one of Gwydion's friends. They now joined the conversation.
"Why are they here?" Seamus asked. "To take Gwydion back? The Gods preserve us, lad, why are you so important?"
The men turned to face Gwydion, who was looking rather embarrassed.
"C'mon, lad," Liam insisted. "Out with it. Why are they so bent to get you back?"
Gwydion sighed, obviously not wanting to make the admission, but it was obvious that the crowd wasn't going to be put off. Rolling his eyes, he admitted. "I was the personal slave of the Roman puppet, Herod. The bastards are after me to set an example to the rest of the lot. No one ever runs from the likes of him, I reckon."
Toby's jaw dropped in astonishment. "You were King Herod's personal slave?"
Gwydion said nothing, just nodded his head and looked down.
"Well, they will not take my son," Liam said emphatically.
A chorus of "ayes" greeted him, more than a few female voices as well. He felt her presence at his side, smelled the lavender, and reached down to take her hand.
"Da, I know this lot." Gwydion had to shout to be heard above the din. "They'll come for me and if they can't find me, they'll take others. We can't let them near the village or none are safe here."
The entire village had now closed ranks around them. Declan called for quiet and received it. But it was clear that the entire village agreed with Gwydion.
"Well, then, it is decided, we can't let them arrive here." Declan paused until the crowd grew quiet again. "We'll take ourselves to them and drive the bastards back out of our home. We'll teach the Romans that they do not own this earth and they cannot take who and what they please."
The shouts of agreement turned into a roar of approval and when Declan asked for silence again, he got it quickly.
"Gwydion, you'll stay here and keep your head down. It is possible we can lose this battle and I don't want them findin' you again."
"I can fight my own battle," Gwydion insisted but his father's hand on his chest quieted him again.
"Aye, lad," Liam agreed. "But you're my only son and you carry the family name. You stay. 'Tis my wish that you'll take care of your mother."
"The eldest and the youngest o' us will remain behind, and the rest will go," Declan declared. "We'll leave with first light."
Toby stepped forward, shouting to be heard. "Wait!"
Declan waved for attention. "What is it, lad? You may go, if you choose, but 'tis not your fight. You and Yeshua need to stay behind."
Toby nodded vehemently. "Yes, Yeshua will stay with Gwydion, but that's not it."
"I want to go," the young man protested.
"No," said Toby, his hand against Yeshua's chest as if to root him to the spot. "You'll be needed here. You don't know anything' about fightin', lad. 'Tis better you stay here. Your màthair would have my hide if I let you get in this."
"I want to drive the Roman—"
Declan spared Toby from having to be the bad guy. "No, lad, no. If Tobias says you know naught of soldierin', then he's right about one thing. You need stay behind."
"Declan." Toby turned away from Yeshua, making up his mind about his role in the coming skirmish. He did have experience and he wanted to put it to good use. "I'll go with you, I can fight and will. But we'll need to know what you have planned for 'em when we get there."
"What do you mean, Tobias?"
"I can help you. You don't know the Roman army, Declan. You can't throw stones at 'em. They'll come with armor and long spears. They'll come marchin' like a rock and you'll not be able to touch 'em."
Gwydion entered into the discussion again. "Aye, he's right. I have seen them. If they know you're comin', they'll get in formation and use the shields to make the turtle. You'll not touch 'em."
All the voices spoke at once, suggesting throwing fireballs or pots of oil set ablaze. Declan listened to each of them and would nod or shake his head if he thought the idea had merit. Toby tried to shout over them, he knew the suggestions were worthless. Declan finally called for silence again, and nodded in Toby's direction.
"None o' this will work," he said.
"You're a soldier, Tobias?"
"Aye, Declan, I am. I know the enemy and I know how to defeat them." Toby let go of Siobhan's hand and stepped to the center of the group. "My friends, listen to me. The only hope you have of defeating this army is if you surprise them. Don't wait until first light. We must leave now." Toby turned to Conor and said, "You told Declan that they were at the Piper's Stones, aye?"
Conor nodded, "Aye, I did. They were settin' up their camp as we left."
"Declan, that's half a day's journey. We can run to them, attack them before they can get ready. If we catch 'em before they have chance to don the armor, they'll be fightin' like we are – with bare skin."
Seamus shouted out in glee. "Aye, bare skin is more to my likin'. If we catch 'em before they have chance to do more than stir, the plan could work."
"Aye," Gwydion said. "It will work. You can take the lot."
"Conor, how many of 'em?" Declan asked.
"We counted no more than forty," Conor answered.
Toby nodded in agreement. "We can take 'em. I'd feel better with more of us than them, but we can do it if we catch them before first light."
"We'll have more'n enough," said another man. "A good matched fight it'll be."
Toby looked around at the gathered and said, "I count only twenty men of fightin' age."
Oooooooo, battle! You'll just have to read the book to find out what happens next!
The Savior by Jesse V Coffey, release date set for February 28th, 2013. Available through Amazon only for now.