The boats drew closer to the white cliffs. Sunlight glinted off a myriad of swords, breastplates and helmets. Spray from the turquoise channel blew up into his face, but sweat more than seawater moistened Lucius Oppius' palms as he gripped the Tenth Legion's eagle. His eyes were as blue and cold as the Mediterranean. His friend Roscius had commented, half jokingly and half in earnest, how Oppius would have been considered handsome - if he ever bothered to smile. A grim expression again carved itself into the soldier's face as he gazed up at the jeering barbarians, their bodies smeared with woad, upon the cliff tops. Even the most cowardly of tribes in Gaul would fancy its chances from such advantageous ground, Oppius mused. The sound of their jeers was occasionally accompanied by the high pitched swish of an arrow, as the odd archer tried his luck. Invariably the missile would zip harmlessly into the sea, or at best a thud could be heard as it struck a Roman scutum or the hull of a ship.
Oppius turned his gaze towards the lead trireme where his General, Caesar, stood at the prow. Did the standard bearer notice the hint of a wry smile upon his commander's face? Caesar had encountered such defiance before. Many had rolled the dice against Caesar and the Tenth, but in the end the Venus throw always came up and Rome was victorious. His red cloak blew in the wind. Caesar was still handsome, whether he smiled or not. His hairline had been retreating of late more than the armies of Gaul but his body was still taut with muscle, his face clean-shaven. His eyes took in everything, yet often remained unreadable. Although brave, Caesar was not foolhardy, Oppius thought. Should he choose to attack now then the legions - the Seventh and Tenth - would be slain from a barrage of missiles before the boats could even reach the beach.
"If their blood lust is anything like their lust for alcohol then we could be in trouble," the standard bearer heard a legionary mutter behind him, only partly as a joke.
"The one often fuels the other." The knowing reply came from a man that the legion nicknamed Teucer, for his skill with a bow. The wiry, pale-faced soldier was a Briton, who had left his homeland and travelled to Gaul. Most Britons were recruited by Rome's enemies on the continent but Teucer had chosen to fight for the Republic. Caesar himself had witnessed his abilities with a bow and bent the rules to promote him to the Tenth. Oppius liked the Briton - and not just because he had saved his life in battle on more than one occasion. He was amiable and intelligent, picking up Latin as quickly as he picked up the legionary's black sense of humour. Oppius briefly wondered how his comrade was now feeling, as he journeyed towards invading his homeland. What was it like, to view your countryman as your enemy? Oppius hoped that he would never have to find out.
The standard bearer was far from the only Roman to focus his attention upon the figure of Caesar as the trireme's captain approached his commander. Many of the newer recruits thought, hoped, that Caesar would point to the captain to sail back to Gaul. Yet Oppius had faith in his General that he would give the order for the fleet to sail onwards, along the coast, and discover another landing site. Indeed Oppius had more faith in Caesar than he did the Gods - and sure enough he observed his commander nod his head in the direction of Britain rather than Gaul. Onwards.
Not even the Gods could stop Caesar.