Oppius waited just inside the tree line at the edge of the settlement, sharpening his knife, as Teucer returned from his reconnaissance mission.
"He's here. He's pouring lies into their ears and drinks down their throat in that large hut closest to us. The three picts are with him. They've been drinking, but they can hold their drink as well as hold their own fighting anyone. They're well armed, carrying shields as well as swords and axes. I overheard which settlement they'll be heading to next - and they'll be heading along the track leading this way into the forest."
"We'll lie in wait for them here. We shouldn't allow them to get into the forest, as our bows will be redundant there. At the same time we should wait until they're away from the hut. We don't want his new recruits entering the fray. Do you see that tree stump by the track? We'll hit them there. There's no cover. We'll both take out one of the bodyguards with our bows. The third will prove more difficult as his shield will be up. I'll race over to take him out at close quarters whilst you wing the agent, to prevent him escaping. Shoot him in the arse or leg."
"Are you looking to capture, rather than kill, him then? And bring him back with us?" the archer asked, his tone laced with a warning at how difficult the task could prove.
"Yes. Those are our orders. To quote one of Fabius' poems, ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die. What's that though?" Oppius asked, nodding his head towards an item Teucer had brought back with him, wrapped in cloth.
"A present," the Briton replied, handing over the bundle.
The centurion unfolded the cloth and held up the gladius, the polished steel glinting as brightly as the soldier's aspect.
"Someone was selling it as a spoil of war. I thought you might like it."
"It's the gift that keeps on giving," Oppius remarked.
The two men did not have long to wait before the picts, forming a triangle around the agent, appeared. Teucer had not been exaggerating about the size and strange fearsomeness of the northern Britons. They all seemed as large and powerful as Roscius. All were crowned with shaggy locks of long red hair. Oppius thought they might be brothers, such was their similar appearance. Although Teucer had remarked how incest was as popular as drinking in some parts of the country. In contrast to the picts surrounding him the agent was slight, spindly. He was dressed like a barbarian but pick off that scab and Oppius would recognise the kind of haughty Roman who could tax both your patience and income. The centurion recalled Caesar's comment the other evening, how he distrusted men with a lean and hungry look. It seems he was right in this instance. The agent carried a dagger, but had the look of a politician rather than soldier. He was more likely to stab himself with the weapon, rather than anyone else, Oppius fancied.
Both men took a breath and nooked an arrow.
"You take out the one in front of the agent. I'll deal with the one on his left," the centurion ordered, his tone devoid of emotion. Soldiers killed people. Lucius Oppius was a soldier. Therefore Lucius Oppius killed people. The syllogism appeared as straight and true to the centurion as Teucer's aim.