27th of January, 1879.
Balhaar lifted the silver dome from its platter and revealed to Chelmsford a single boiled egg, sitting in a ceramic cup. Beside it was a slice of bread roll, its white body smothered in thick butter, as well as a collection of purple grapes. A relatively simple breakfast, Chelmsford knew, but one that would give him all the energy he needed for the morning ahead. In his years in the army, he had seen the effects that a heavy morning meal could have during war, even when not on the eve of battle. He could still remember how many of the cavalrymen at Balaclava had emptied their stomachs when they were ordered on their ill fated charge, although whether it was from the nerves or from the cholera, he still didn't know.
Raising his spoon, the English lord brought it against the pale shell of the egg, cracking it open with a few good taps. Inside, the yolk shined, golden as the sun, framed in a sea of white. Chelmsford swiftly tore off a strip from his bread, dipped it into the yolk and ate it, nodding to his servant in appreciation. "Perfect as ever, Balhaar".
The Indian bowed wordlessly and then moved to stand patiently off to the side. Silence descended over the tent, as Chelmsford partook in his breakfast at a leisurely pace. Although the lack of conversation might have perturbed some people, Chelmsford actually enjoyed the quiet. It gave him time to mull over the events transpiring all around him. The past few days had definitely been one to tell the grandchildren.
They had set off from Pietermaritzburg just a few weeks ago. Their original mission had been exceedingly simple. They were to seek out the Zulu army, defeat it and capture their king, Cetshwayo. This had all been because of some damn silly dispute between the tribals and the Boers. After an ultimatum had been sent to the Zulu capital of Ulundi to stand their armies down and was promptly rejected, the British had crossed the border into the wilds of Zululand, intent on putting down the Africans by force.
The journey had been relatively smooth, bar one or two skirmishes between scouts and Zulu warriors. And although those little encounters did produce some casualties, they were nothing to be seriously concerned about. There was no doubt in Chelmsford's mind that they were the greatest army the Zulu had ever faced. He had even believed they might still be cowed in submission by the thought of the British marching on their capital. And even if they did not surrender, any battle between a regiment of riflemen supported by artillery and a horde of goatherders armed with little more than spears and shields of cowhide could really only go one way.
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Whilst they had been searching, their would-be foes had been slaughtered... by an enemy none of them could ever have imagined. The legions of Rome had seemingly returned into the modern world of 1879, accompanied by horrifying creatures, and unleashed their fury onto the unsuspecting Zulu army, killing the Africans without mercy and leading the rest off to God only knows where. The whole damned expedition had changed the moment they had ridden upon the field of battle. From then on, their goal had changed, they were to seek out these Romans, to see what their true intentions were.
And when they had found that ancient army, all they were met with was savagery and unprovoked aggression. The messenger sent to speak with them had been slain, despite posing no threat. It had only devolved from there as the Roman army marched from their encampment, seemingly intent on destroying the British. But, despite their talent at killing messengers, the Romans proved themselves wholly inadequate when it came to clashing with a modern army.
Artillery had blown their formations to smithereens. Massed rifle fire shot their infantry to pieces. And the cavalry had chased them off, all the way back to their camp, which itself was promptly captured. Besides the usual things one would expect to find within such a camp, there was also something else entirely...
At first, Chelmsford had assumed it a temple, perhaps the headquarters for the Roman leadership. That was until he had seen it up close and saw was within it. Or rather, the em style="box-sizing: border-box;"lack /emof anything in it. Instead of a church or manour house, all that the building held was pure, unknowable darkness. It had shaken to the core every man who saw it, Chelmsford included, at its sheer... strangeness. Lieutenant Melville had hypothesised that this em style="box-sizing: border-box;"thing /emhad perhaps been the source of the Romans, that this was how they had seemingly appeared from nowhere in the wilds of South Africa.
He had ordered a guard for the thing, to ensure no one else would see it, and then left it for the night. Despite this, as he had slept, the black maw of the structure forced its way into Chelmsford's dreams, haunting him. He had not had a good night.
And today, he would have to return that accursed temple, to try and learn what it truly was and what it held.
He was just scraping the last of the egg from its shell when the sound of the tent flap opening brought his thoughts back to the present. Crealocke stood beside the flap, hands behind his back and standing straight. Seeing that he had his superior's attention, he gave a crisp salute, which Chelmsford returned somewhat limply. "My lord". He greeted.
"Crealock". Chelmsford replied, turning his attention back to a particularly large bit of egg at the bottom of the shell.
"I did not mean to interrupt your breakfast, my lord, but I was told to bid you summons to the... temple. Colonel Harford and Colonel Durnford await you there".
Harford? Chelmsford was surprised by that. The colonel was a good enough man, and a decent soldier, if a bit eccentric. The first time they had met, the man had been observing a butterfly he had interred in a glass of gin.
"I'm afraid they didn't say, my lord. They only asked I bring you to them. However, if you're too busy..."
"No, no. I was just finishing up here anyway". Chelmsford stood to his feet, pulling the napkin from his collar and placing it onto his plate. Balhaar promptly walked over, picking up the plate with the remains of his masters breakfast on it and carried it off to be washed. Crealock followed behind, leading Chelmsford out into the bright sunlight of a new day.
After all the excitement of the previous day, Chelmsford had ordered the rest of the army to set up a permanent camp, a short distance from the Roman's own encampments. Rows and rows of peaked white tents lay around Chelmsford's own, and as he headed over to where his horse was being groomed, he could see his army preparing for the day ahead. Mounting up and setting out at a trot, following behind Crealock on his own steed, the lord took some time to observe how his men were doing.
Dozens of crackling campfires were already going, over which cauldrons filled with bubbling porridge simmered and then were served to the eagerly awaiting infantrymen. Elsewhere, the cavalrymen tended to their hitched animals, tying feeding bags to their muzzles and brushing away any errant dirt that might be staining their manes and coats. Chelmsford gave a nod of approval at the latter. No matter what, a man of the British Army, the cavalry in particular, must always keep up appearances. It was that which kept them above such people as the Zulu or the Boers.
Soon they reached the outer limits of the camp and then descended down the hill into what a day before had been a raging battlefield. Now though, the field was silent except for the wind whistling through the grass. The bodies had been taken away and buried in a mass grave a good distance from the camp and those prisoners taken were being held in a separate patch of land. Chelmsford still thanked God that their own casualties had been few, mostly amongst the cavalry who had engaged in close quarters combat with the Romans. The single volley of arrows unleashed by the enemy arrows had also taken down one or two men but they were on the fast track to recovery, albeit with some new scars to show off to ladies.
Despite the efforts to tidy the place up, Chelmsford still saw many arrows from that single failed attack buried in the dirt, their steel heads glinting in the sun. Here and there were also the occasional helmet or smaller piece of armour, missed by those sent to collect up all the weapons and armour dropped by the Romans. He would have to remember to look over some of it himself, just in case there was anything that might look nice in his home back in England.
As they headed out into the rolling fields, they were joined by a personal guard of lancers. The riders formed up on either side of them, lances held high, the red and white pennants tied to the ends stirring in the breeze.
With their safety secured by the presence of the mounted soldiers, Chelmsford dug his spurs into his horse's flank, picking up their pace into a canter. Crealock called to him over the clop of the animals hooves tramping through the dried earth. "In a hurry, my lord?"
"Yes, Crealock. When it comes to the Roman's temple, I don't wish to dilly dally. It is of the utmost importance that we figure out what it truly is". Chelmsford answered coolly.
"I understand, my lord. I'm certainly most interested in discovering what it holds".
"Nothing good, I can already tell".
Those ominous words hung over them as they continued to travel the short distance to their destination. Soon, they crested one more slope and then looked down upon the primitive sprawl of the Roman camp. Unlike the day before, however, now the once silent encampment was teeming with activity. Engineers busied themselves with tearing down the palisade walls that surrounded the encampment, pulling them to the ground with ropes and hammers. Others were setting about dismantling and taking down the hundreds of tents that inhabited the grounds.
Chelmsford gave a few waves to a select few of the engineers NCO's, who returned them with salutes and shouts of good morning. The common soldiers continued on with their work, their jackets unbuttoned or stripped to the waist completely, toiling and sweating under the hard and uncaring glare of the sun. Their break for a drink of water and a puff on a pipe would come later.
They swiftly ascended up the hill towards the Roman nobles camp, cutting through the lanes between the enormous tents that the leaders of the enemy army had been dwelling in before their untimely defeat. While many had been left untouched, out of respect for their fallen owners, there had been one or two instances of looting from the common soldiers who had managed to sneak away from their posts. Their deviancy had only been discovered when their lieutenant had eyed a gilded dagger sticking out of one of their pockets.
A few figures popped their heads out from the tent flaps, behind the armed sentry's guarding them. The few Roman lords that had survived the massacre the previous day had been interred in their tents, awaiting their fate, whatever that may be. Chelmsford hadn't decided as of yet.
His attention was then drawn to one tent in particular, one that was rather more modest than the ones surrounding it. Instead of silk, its walls were simple wool, and in the place of the gaudy and bright dyes were stripes of reserved light green and white. The men standing guard both gave him a sharp salute, before returning their hands to clutching their rifles, at the ready for any funny business, either from behind or in front. Whereas the rest of the Roman leaders were only assigned a single soldier, the occupant of this tent was privileged enough to have two. As befitted a man of his rank: that of the leader of the Roman army himself.
Chelmsford had not deigned to speak with him yet, being far too busy celebrating the victory and sleeping off the wine. He had made sure the man was being treated well though, even providing him with a glass of champagne to go along with his supper. He had meant to finally a chat today but anything concerning the temple took precedence over all else.
Speaking of that damnable building, they soon traversed up the hill towards its glowering maw. As they approached, Crealock spoke up. "My lord... do you truly believe what Lieutenant Melville hypothesised about this... thing?"
The noble was quiet for a moment, thinking over his answer to his friends question, before he finally said. "I'm really not sure, Crealock. On one hand, it seems entirely absurd, to think that this structure could be some sort of... portal to another land. On the other, however, I fail to see a logical reason that an entire Roman legion could be here in the veldt".
"I thought at first that they might be some sort of lost settlement, my lord. We know that the Romans were here on the continent, so perhaps a band of aspiring colonists set out to conquer their own little patch of territory". Crealock suggested.
Chelmsford couldn't help but scoff. "And they stayed here for nine hundred years? Keeping out of sight from both the natives's and the Boers? My dear Crealock, I do not mean to be rude but your theory is... well, frankly it's nonsensical".
The young officer looked positively downcast by his superior's response. "I-I'm sorry, my lord".
At seeing his friends disheartened expression, Chelmsford's voice took on a lighter tone. "No need to apologise. I simply don't want such outlandish theories as that to be flying around. It could demoralize the men, if they knew that they wiped out such an extraordinary group".
"I understand, my lord. I shan't share it with anyone else, without your saying to do so, of course".
Finally, they reached their destination. The great yawning chasm of the temple loomed in front of them, and standing before it were Durnford, Harford and a host of other men of high rank standing with them. The colonel held in his hands a length of rope, which he was wrapping around the waist of a regular infantryman. At the sound of approaching hooves, the collected assembly of officers all looked up. Harford swiftly gave a salute, as did the rest, including the tied up soldier.
"Morning, my lord!" He called over cheerfully.
"Good morning, gentlemen". Chelmsford greeted, bring his horse to a stop and dismounting before looking the ordinary soldier and the rope wrapped around him. "Harford?"
"Yes sir?" Asked the officer, resuming his trussing up of the soldier.
"Would you please explain to me why you are tying up this man like he's a West End magician?" The English lord questioned.
"Hm?" Harford furrowed his eyebrows for a moment before his eyes flicked down to his hands and the hempen rope which they held. "Oh, yes! Well, it's something of an experiment, my lord!"
"An experiment? I never took you for a man of the sciences, colonel".
A grin broke out on Harford's face. "Oh no, my lord, trust me, I am the farthest thing from it. The experiment I do now is of a more... simple nature than ones conducted by say, Sir David Brewster. Nevertheless, I have no doubt it will produce results that will please us all!"
Chelmsford raised an eyebrow, glancing around at the men. Durnford was stone faced but Napoleon seemed very interested in the dirt. The rest of the officers looked either interested or just as bemused as Chelmsford. "And, pray tell, what are the details of this experiment?"
"Well..." Harford held up the strand of rope connected to the one wrapping around the infantryman. "As you can see, I've tied a length of rope around Sergeant Hall here. He will take this revolver and this lantern-" The eccentric colonel held up the aforementioned items. "-And will then walk into the structure".
"Walk into it?" Chelmsford exclaimed, eyes going wide and looking from Sergeant Hall to the unending black of the temple and back again. "And you think that's wise? We don't even know what's actually in there!"
"Hence the revolver".
He couldn't help but give a resigned groan, pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut. In the pregnant pause that followed, no one spoke. Until Sergeant Hall himself suddenly gave a small cough.
"I-I did volunteer for this, sir".
His admission was enough to make Chelmsford open his eyes and really look at Sergeant Hall. The soldier was relatively old, perhaps in his early forties, with a pair of mutton chop sideburns and moustache, much like Chelmsford himself. He also looked incredibly out of his depth among gentlemen of the officer class, but nonetheless squared his shoulders now that he had his commanders eyes on him.
"And why was that? You do realise, sergeant, that whatever is in that darkness is entirely unknown to us? That anything could be in there?"
"Well..." Hall scuffed at the ground for a moment and then shrugged. "All the lads who've been guarding this thing, they been getting all antsy over it. I don't blame 'em a bit, m'lord, its unnatural. I just thought that, if I was to see what was inside, it might put their minds at ease a bit".
"Hm". Chelmsford straightened his posture and placed a hand on the man's shoulder, giving him a small smile. "You're a credit to the Regiment, sergeant".
A bashful grin came to Hall's face. "Oh, I wouldn't go that far, m'lord. I just wanted to help my boys".
"And help them you shall". With that, Chelmsford turned back to Harford, who was looking at him with bated breath. "You may proceed, colonel".
A grin broke out on the man's face and he immediately went back to work. "As I was saying, Sergeant Hall shall take a small jaunt into the temple, with the lantern to light his way and the revolver in case he runs into anything nasty, and, to make sure he doesn't get lost in all that darkness, there will be a length of rope that I will hold. When it finally reaches its end, I will give it a tug and he'll come back in a jiffy".
"And if he does find something?"
"Well... I suppose he'll fire a few shots and then run on home".
Worry once again flared up in Chelmsford's heart at Harford's answer but he resisted the urge to show it on his face, instead giving a curt nod. Soon, with Hall all tied up, and equipped with both lantern and gun, the experiment began.
The guards surrounding the temple all tensed up as the officers approached, with their trussed up test subject approached, hands tightening around the barrels of their rifles as they realised what was about to take place. A few gave familial nods to the sergeant, who in turn gave them a grim smile. It reminded Chelmsford all too much of a convict being lead to the gallows.
Eventually they reached the very precipice of the temple, just as the vale of darkness swallowed up the ground and all the light that it touched. The rest of the officers, Chelmsford included, came to a stop a few yards in front of it. Only Harford and the sergeant walked right up to the foreboding structure, and even then the NCO didn't have much choice in the matter.
"Ready, sergeant?" Harford asked.
Hall looked a mite less brave now and glanced over with eyes as wide as dinner plates. "I-I..."
"Good man!" The colonel gave the sergeant a pat on the shoulder and then gave him a push.
The sergeant yelped like a boy half his age as he stumbled into the darkness. He flailed his arms, trying to grab on to anything that might halt his descent. Unfortunately, all he found was air and finally his foot made contact with the interior of the temple with a resounding and echoing thump.
In the silence that followed, every eye was on Hall's foot. The man's breath was heavy and he stared with wild eyes. Then, as it became clear that he was alright, that the temple had not absorbed him into its maw, a smile began to grow on his face and a low chuckle, swamped in relief, left his throat.
Chelmsford let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding. Well, at least they had confirmed that whatever this structure was, it didn't kill you just by touching it. That was a start at least.
Whilst everyone else watching the proceedings had similar looks of relief on their faces, Harford looked, of all things, disappointed. "Oh. I must say, I was expecting something a bit more... dramatic". He said before giving a shake of his head. "Well, never mind! On you pop, sergeant. Forward march!"
Hall looked at Harford for a moment, as if the man was truly mad, before giving a shake of his head, seemingly remembering his vow to help his fellow soldiers. So, he took one shaky step forward. Then another. A third came. With each footfall, his confidence seemed to rise and soon the stumbling walk became a cautious stride.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Chelmsford still thought for a few moments that eventually Hall would hit the other side of the structure, that it would be revealed that the whole cursed temple was simply poorly lit. However, it soon became apparent that the bowels of this mysterious were deeper than any of them ever thought.
The more the sergeant walked, the more the darkness enveloped him, swallowing him up until the only thing that the assembled officers could see was the faint flickering of his lantern in the far distance. Harford held the rope taut, breathing heavily and, like everyone else, straining his eyes to see anything.
"Mon dieu... He must have walked close to a mile by now!" Louis-Napoleon gasped.
"I'd say it's closer to two, your majesty". Chelmsford opined quietly.
Crealock shook his head. "Surely he can't stay in there much longer".
"Hm". The lord looked over to Harford, who by now had a fine sheen of sweat covering his face from holding the tether for so long. "Colonel, how much more rope do you have left?"
Harford looked to his commander, raising one hand to wipe away a strand of grey hair plastered to his forehead. "Ah... I'd say a few more metres, my lord".
"Right... Let's see what he can find". Chelmsford replied, returning his gaze back to the distant scarlet bloom of the lantern, slowly being consumed by the unearthly darkness. All was silent, the only sound being the worried breaths of the audience and Harford's grunts. Soon, all they could see of Sergeant Hall was a pinprick of light in the veritable black sea.
Then, suddenly, the rope in Harford's grip shook as it finally reached the end of its length. "That's it, my lord!"
"Give him the signal then".
Wordlessly, the eccentric colonel gave a sharp tug on the rope. No doubt Hall would feel a sharp pain in his waist as the cord wrapped around him was pulled on.
That was if he was still alive anyway.
At first, nothing much changed. The distant light still flickered, unmoving. But then, gradually, it started to grow in size and intensity.
"I think he's running now". Crealock noted.
"Well, obviously, he's not going to be taking a stroll, is he?" Durnford muttered, voice laced with annoyance.
"Now, now, gentlemen..." Chelmsford cautioned, keeping his eyes on the rapidly advancing beacon.
The lord tensed his shoulders as the light advanced upon them, growing in size and intensity, his hand slowly, almost unknowingly, lowering down to the revolver stuck into a holster at his belt. He could tell the others around him were doing the same, some even going as far as to openly grip the stock of their guns. The regular infantrymen standing guard tightened their hands around their Martini-Henry rifles, dropping into combat stances as they strained their eyes to see what might follow Hall out of the void. The air was heavy and tense.
Finally, after a few heart pounding seconds of silence, Sergeant Hall returned to Earth, almost bursting from the black wall and stumbling down into the dirt. The lantern clattered from his grip, and instead his hands found purchase in the dry, yellow grass, clutching the foliage with all his might. He let out several huge, gasping breaths, his eyes wide and sweat plastering his face.
"Sarge!" One of the infantryman exclaimed, immediately running over and falling down to his knees beside the NCO. "Sarge, you alright?"
The only noise Hall made were a few choking gasps and he stared up at the soldier with a vacant yet piercing gaze.
"Sarge?" The young soldier repeated, reaching out to place a hand on Hall's shoulder, only to freeze when Harford cried out.
"Don't touch him!"
The officer scrambled over, kneeling down beside Hall. "Sergeant... sergeant, are you alright? Do you need something? A drink?"
Hall took a few more breaths, finally managing to croak out a few words as he sat up. "Yes... water, please..."
The soldier immediately took his canteen from his belt, unscrewing the lid and holding it to his sergeants mouth. The moment the first drop hit the man's tongue, his hands shot up and took hold of the canteen, tipping it back and letting all the water within gush down into his mouth. Water trickled down his chin and neck as he glugged the liquid down. Chelmsford feared for a moment that if he drank so quickly he would retch it all back up again. But soon the whole canteen was drained and Hall lowered it from his mouth.
He gasped once again, shakily wiping at his mouth. "S-sorry, Duncan... just a bit thirsty..."
"No bother sarge". Private Duncan replied with a small smile, giving him a pat on the shoulder.
Chelmsford took that moment of levity to stride over, being followed by the rest of the officers, and looked down at Hall and spoke. "Sergeant, can you describe what you saw within the temple?"
Hall looked up shakily to his commander before giving a small nod. "Y-yes, m'lord".
The man was quiet for a moment, closing his eyes and furrowing his brow, as if he was straining to put what he saw into words. "I-It was... dark obviously. Could barely see where I was going. If it weren't Colonel Harford's rope, I fear I might have got lost entirely. I just walked in a straight line, pissing meself all the way- ah, pardon my French, m'lord".
"No need. I'm sure I'd use a similar phrase myself". Chelmsford said, waving off the sergeant's language. "Please, continue".
"Right... I continued on for a bit, keeping my lantern and revolver up, until... until I saw something. It were a light, m'lord".
"My God!" Harford exclaimed. "Were you dying?"
"No! I-It weren't that sort of light. It was like-" Hall jabbed a finger up to the sky and the sun shining down onto them.
"Yes, yes, sunlight. It was beaming through and I thought for a minute that I'd somehow come back 'round to where I'd started. But then, beyond the light, were hills, covered in bright green grass and trees. It looked like a whole other world, sir".
His words made everyone gathered around fall into a deathly silence. It seemed that everyone was running their personal theories on the temple through their minds, trying to figure how this new information would work with them.
It was Durnford who broke the silence. He spoke to Private Duncan. "Take Sergeant Hall back to the camp, private, see to it that he gets some food and more water, and a comfortable place to rest. I believe he deserves a rest, don't you?"
"Yes, sir". Private Duncan answered, giving a quick salute to the colonel before throwing the sergeant's arm around his shoulder and hauling the man to his feet. "Come on, sarge. I've got ya".
Together, the two hobbled off down the hill, leaving the officers to discuss what they just learned.
Harford spoke first, with the biggest smile that Chelmsford had ever seen on his face. "I'd say that my experiment went rather well didn't it!"
"Well, it certainly produced results..." Chelmsford replied, looking up at the monolithic structure in front of them. "So... I think we can all agree that the Romans did come through the temple then?"
The men all gave nods of their heads and Durnford spoke up. "Pardon, m'lord, but if there really is a world beyond it, then the temple isn't really a temple, is it? If anything, it's more of a gate".
"Let's not get into a discussion on the terminology, colonel". Said Chelmsford, his gaze never leaving the towering gate. "All that matters is that we figure out how this thing came to be..."
"Why not ask the prisoners?" Louis-Napoleon enquired. "Surely they would know".
"Yes... a splendid idea Your Majesty. And I think I know just who to speak to. Luckily enough, I think it's almost lunch time".
Colt was awoken by a rough shake of his shoulder and a bark of orders in a tongue he could not understand. Wearily, he opened his eyes, only to be greeted with the sneering face of his redcoat guard. He was a bit of an ugly man, with a big red nose under which a bushy brown moustache grew. His eyes were his most notable feature though, fiery and fierce, especially now as he looked down on his captive.
The guard repeated his order, gesturing with his staff for Colt to rise. Not wishing to get a crack on the head (not another one anyway), Colt did as he was ordered, sitting up in his bed and swinging his legs out from under the covers. He noted with amusement that the guard took a step away from him as he did, no doubt worried that his captive might attempt something. Colt only shook his head. If the man was expecting some kind of daring escape attempt, he would be sorely disappointed. Or relieved.
Even if the Lord of Italica did somehow manage to kill or otherwise dispose of this singular guard, there was another just outside the tent flap and after that another hundred or so in the captured Imperial camp. He had seen them all the night before, as he'd been lead away from the rest of the captured Saderan army, saw them picking through the tents looking for trinkets and souvenirs, joking and laughing in their victory. They were confident and many, more than enough to deal with a single man.
Scratching at his hair, Colt quirked his head at his captor, unsure what the Redcoat wanted him to do now. He was about to ask, for all the good it would do with the language barrier between the, when the tent flap opened and a figure stepped in that Colt had only seen once before. An older man, with a mighty pair of mutton chops, and dressed in what looked like a more ornate version of a Redcoat's officer's uniform. Behind him was a Redcoat carrying a tray, upon which a bowl of steaming soup sat.
Colt's eyes were instantly drawn to the meal, and he felt a sting of hunger in his gut. He had not eaten for many hours, and even then it had only been a single apple and a cup of water. Licking his chapped lips, Colt made to stand, only to be stopped when the guard took a step in front of him, growling what was undoubtedly a threat.
He only moved aside when his commander spoke softly. The guard scowled at Colt one last time and then moved aside. The officer gave a small smile and then nodded to the table in the centre of the tent. Flicking his eyes between both the table and the man, Colt considered his options (or rather the lack of them). Making up his mind, he dutifully took a seat.
The man's smile only grew and he gently placed the tray down onto the table, pushing it towards Colt with a finger.
The Count of Italica took up the spoon and looked to the Redcoat officer questioningly. He got a nod in return. Stirring the watery broth around the bowl, Colt raised the spoon and looked it over. A few chunks of carrots and onions bobbed in the liquid but they looked perfectly normal. It did not smell any different to any other soups that he had eaten before. Still, that did not mean anything.
He had heard stories from his maids of the various poisons that their races brewed. The Cat-People were said to make the deadliest concoctions, potions that could kill a man violently and horrifically with just one drop. The worst part? It was said that if you were to ingest those cursed liquids, you wouldn't even know. They were tasteless and odourless, perfect for slipping into a glass of wine or a bowl of soup...
Colt immediately dropped the spoon back into the bowl with a clatter, eyes wide, flinching away from the drops of soup that spilled out and splattered onto the table.
"You don't need to worry. I'm not planning to poison you". The words instantly made Colt freeze. Slowly, he looked up from the meal and to the still smiling face of the redcoat officer.
"Y-you..." Colt gulped. "You speak my language?"
The officer chuckled. "No, technically not... just something very close to it. Besides the occasional word or pronunciation".
"Something close to it..." The Imperial lord tried to grasp what the Redcoat was saying. Had there been a Gate to this land before? Had travellers from his own world already explored this one? That was the only explanation, the only one that made sense, as to how the Saderan tongue could possibly be known to these otherworlders. Now seeking answers, Colt began to stammer. "W-where did you-"
"Ah!" The Redcoat raised a hand and pointed to the bowl of soup. "We may converse, but only if you stop with all this poison nonsense. Honestly, I can understand the cautiousness, but really, what reason would we have to kill you? We're not savages".
Memories of the otherworlders magical weapons and their tearing apart of the legionary's flashed in Colt's mind at the man's words. "Could have fooled me..." He muttered.
"What was that?" The Redcoat officer asked sharply.
"Nothing". Colt shook his head and took up his spoon once again, dipping it into the bowl and raising it to his face. Steam wafted off the broth, its mouth watering smell dancing in his nostrils. Slowly and very wearily, Colt brought the spoon to his mouth. Much to his shame, he found the food utterly delicious.
"Now, to answer your earlier question: I learned this language at school".
"School? What school? And where?" Colt demanded.
"E-Eton? Wha-" Colt began to say before being swiftly silenced by the Redcoat.
"Hang on. I answered your question, now you must answer mine. What is your name?"
"My name?" The Count of Italica furrowed his brow for a moment. Was it prudent to reveal his true name to these people, who were still his enemy? Then again, if they asked another lord and they revealed his real name, then his men might be punished...
"My name is Colt Formal, Head of the Clan Formal, Count of the city of Italica". He recited.
The Redcoat raised an eyebrow but then nodded. "Quite a share of titles. Well, I have the pleasure of being Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, general of the British Army and servant to Queen Victoria and the British Empire. Most people tend to refer to me as just Lord Chelmsford though ".
British Empire? So the nations of this world did develop beyond the level of meagre tribes?
"I take it you're not familiar with those names?" Lord Chelmsford enquired and Colt promptly shook his head. "I thought not. Tell me, your city, where is it located?"
"On the continent of Falmart". After a second and seeing the look of confusion that appeared on the otherworlder's face, Colt pressed on, taking advantage of this momentary weakness. "I take it you're not familiar with that name?"
"I-I'm afraid not". Chelmsford admitted but smiled once again. "But I'm sure you can enlighten me".
"Perhaps. It seems we have much to discuss".
"Much and more. Namely, the Gate..."
It's still July, isn't it? Alright, seriously, I am very sorry for not getting this chapter out earlier. I actually began writing it right just a day after posting the last one. But, a lot of things came up, not to mention lockdown, so this chapter just sort of sat for a few months, until I finally decided to stop pissing about and get it published, whatever it takes. I actually intended for this chapter to be longer, including a whole discussion between Colt and Chelmsford, which I'm afraid will have to wait until next time, whenever that is. I can't guarantee an exact date that I'll get Chapter 7 out, but I hope to get around to it eventually. I just got burned out on writing this and Gate in general, but I'm hoping after quite an extended break from the fandom, I'll be able to continue writing new chapters with a fresh, renewed vision. Now, onto reviews, seven months late:
Perseus12: I don't know about Zorzal or Tyuule. They weren't there in the original story, nor do I see a reason for Zorzal to risk his life, being quite cowardly after all. Not to mention the fact that killing off Zorzal so early would really cut the legs out from the story. Don't worry, I have plans for him and Tyuule. As for the Boers and Zulu's, I simply can't see the British simply giving away South Africa to them, especially with the Gate in the middle of it all. As in real life, more war in South Africa is inevitable, though undoubtedly it will more vicious now, as one of the most important discoveries in history is in South Africa.
Evowizard25: Thank you very much. Yeah, I wanted to make sure that this chapter really got across how awful the aftermath of a Victorian era battle can be. And yes, the Boers are still a major issue, as with the Zulu's now defeated, they'll be very eager to take South Africa for themselves, especially with the Gate in the centre of it all now.
SirParacelsus: Yes, the British are definitely celebrating a bit early. Then again, wouldn't you? It's not every day that you defeat a Roman legion! And I'm very happy you like Joseph and his mates!
ATP: Yes, I've been looking into anti-balloon guns, as they were one of the first proper AA guns ever made.
Zerox: Oh definitely. As with many other Gate fics and the original story, the international scene will be a very big part of the story. In particular, the French and German Empires will be taking a big role in the upcoming story, particularly the former with Louis Napoleon's presence in the British Army.
HMS Hood: Right now!