by Leanne on May 31, 2012 at 10:50 am
The Eagle of the Twelfth: it has a mythic ring to it. The clash of swords on shields, the shining eagle, the hope, the pride, the courage, the despair of a legion… and of course, it has to be lost; because why write about an Eagle if it sits safely on its standard and is never under threat?
From the day I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth in our village library as a child, I have been entranced by the legions and the power of their Eagle standards to embody the spirit, honour and pride of the men who fought under them. If the Eagle was saved at the end of a battle, even if only one man was saved with it, the legion lived. But if the standard was lost, even if a thousand men survived, the legion was gone. What a powerful, compelling story!
And yet the Eagle of the Ninth was never truly lost: the story of its recovery can only ever be fiction. The day I discovered that the Eagle of the Twelfth really was lost was one of the most exciting of my writing life; more so given that we know from the contemporary historian Josephus how four hundred men gathered to give their lives and to die with it, knowing it was going to be captured. But the Twelfth legion lived on, so it must have been found again; just that nobody knows how. It’s a writer’s gift: for forty years I’ve wanted to write a story that would do justice to the Eagle, and here it was, a gem hidden away in the timeline of the Emperor’s Spy series, and all i had to do was weave a novel around it, bring in Pantera and Hypatia and Mergus from The Coming of the King, and show how the two fitted together. If ever a book wrote itself, it is this one.
The research was inspiring: I read endless war memoirs from battles down the ages and discovered – or perhaps simply came more deeply to know – that some things were always the same; when men live together, train together, fight, kill and die together, the bond that joins them is as strong as any marriage, as enduring as any unrequited love. When you owe a man your life, and he knows it, there is no limit to what you will do for him. And so the Eagle of the Twelfth is a love story as much as it is a story of battles won and lost, of the unluckiest legion in the Roman army and how it dug itself out of its un-luck by sheer force of will and courage and grit-toothed determination: it’s the story of a man’s enduring love for his legion, and the lengths he will go to to help it survive.
The Eagle of the Twelfth is the third in the Rome series. The next, Rome: The Art of War, brings Pantera back to the centre stage, pushing him to the edges of his being and testing a life’s learning as the natural heir to the Spymaster. But for now, I give you Demalion of Macedon; the man who came to love his legion. The man who was prepared to give his life for the Eagle of the Twelfth.
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