S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

Reviews, news and inside the world of books.

Posts Tagged ‘character

Soldiers of Rome

leave a comment »


Interviewer: We’re joined today by two stalwarts of Rome. From the first century BC and the days of the glorious Republic, Marcus Falerius Fronto, Legate of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh legions and from the fourth century AD and the troublesome times of Late Antiquity, Numerius Vitellius Pavo, Tribunus of the XI Claudia legion.

* * *

Interviewer: So tell me about the places from which you have travelled.

Fronto: Eh? Er… Massilia. Sort of. And Tarraco. I’ve come hotfoot from Massilia, via Tarraco. The campaign season’s over and I’ve managed to slip away from dangerous lunatics and oppressive proconsuls long enough to actually be a father again for half an hour. Didn’t someone say there’d be wine?

Pavo: From Thracia. (frowns when interviewer seems nonplussed). You haven’t heard? The land is like an open grave. The Goths are running riot there: last summer we fought them near Adrianople. Thirty thousand men on either side, and the hairy bastards won the day. They killed Emperor Valens and nearly two-thirds of the Eastern Army. (grips sword hilt) And when I get back there, I’ve got some scores to settle.

Fronto: (laughs) Welcome to my world! (lifts jug of wine from table and swigs) Bastards the lot of them…

Pavo: (charges wine cup to Fronto) Bastard barbarians.

Fronto: (nonplussed) I meant officers. Never mind.



Interviewer: Pavo, I hear you fourth century legionaries, especially limitanei, are the weak link of the later imperial army? Not like the all-conquering Republican legions.

Pavo: *Says nothing, gives interviewer burning stare*

Fronto: (chuckles and jabs thumb towards interviewer) And they wear trousers. Some say they don’t even wear armour.

Pavo, head swivelling to Fronto: Have you been listening to that arsehole, Vegetius? The vet who thinks he understands the necessities of war in the Fourth Century? Me and the Claudia lads trekked through the desert once, and in the hostile regions near the Persian frontier – even when it was so hot you could fry an egg on the sand – we’d have our mail and helmets on. Always – iron and shield. Vegetius should have stuck to shoving his hand up cows’ arses.

Fronto: Not like Marius’s Mules. Carrying everything you need, right down to the sudis stakes to make camp for the night. Not me, mind you. A legate has enough weight on his shoulders without that. And look at your sword. What happened to your gladius? That looks like a Gaul’s sword. Long as a German’s dick. Seems to me like you’re compensating for something.

Pavo: Well you’re the one who mentioned it. You should meet my Primus Pilus, Sura; he’s obsessed with the length of his cock too… (chuckles, takes draught of wine for himself)… and the thing is, it’s absolutely miniscule!

Fronto: You’ve been peeking? All a bit Greek for me, that! (Takes another swig of wine)


The standard bearer of Caesar’s legions landing in Britannia

Interviewer:  But the way of war changed so much between each of your eras, did it not? Tell me about battle tactics…

Fronto: It’s all about discipline. Doesn’t matter how well armed you are or how clever your tactics. Rome wins the day when they have a general and an army that do not yield and will not break into melee and chase unless specifically instructed to do so. You could take a bunch of papyrus-pushing Aegyptian eunuchs and turn them into a fearful legion if you can instill discipline. Hades, they might even be better. After all, Pullo does spend way too much time playing with his balls. I think in my time we have the edge over Pavo’s lot. We still have Romanitas, albeit backed up with a Spanish sword, Gallic armour, Greek tactics and a Punic navy. But we took the best and made an unstoppable killing machine with it. Pavo’s lot took some close harmony choral stuff as their main influence.

Pavo: So your boys come steaming in, gladius in hand… but our lot are no barbarian rabble who’ll look for ‘glorious’ one-on-one combat. True, our Greek and Latin is sprinkled with Germanic words and phrases, and lots of the men of the ranks are sons of tribesmen, but when we stand together as a legion, we’re like a wall of iron. Have you seen us? Shields interlocked – sometimes two storeys of them – and a maw of spears – break into that if you can! And you’ll hear us long before you see us. The draco standards trill and moan and the barritus, another tribal influence, is a cry that you will hear once and never, ever forget. (stops and tuts at Fronto) Choral harmony indeed. More like Hades unleashed: tens of thousands of us, roaring in a crescendo, swords beating on shields and all manner of sharp pointy things flying out at you from behind our shield wall: lead-weighted darts, slingshot, arrows, javelins. Quadratus even threw a turd at a Gothic reiks once. Hit the bastard right in the mouth. He claims he found it on the ground. I suspect otherwise.

Fronto: Sounds like a phalanx. My forefathers gutted the Greeks when they tried to face us like that and we beat the Helvetii phalanx near Bibracte. A phalanx is not secure. Round the side, spill round the back, tear ’em to shreds!

Pavo: (grins) Then you weren’t paying attention to our cohorts positioned in the woods? The ones waiting to fall on your backs? Ah, of course, you wouldn’t have spotted them: faces and limbs smeared with dirt, bright shields armour left behind – tactically, in case Vegetius gets too excited. Great for surprising an enemy. A vicious bastard of a general by the name of Sebastianus taught me this.

Fronto: Now you’re putting me in mind of the Nervii. Bastards. Alright. I concede the point.


Goths assailing the legions of Late Antiquity

Interviewer:  You both seem to be enjoying the wine. It’s a soldier thing, isn’t it?

Pavo: Numbs the mind. (eyes cup thoughtfully for a moment). My men indulge more than me these days, but still, after a long march or a bruising skirmish, you can’t beat a spicy wine or a foaming beer. Yes, beer. Now the Goths have a lot to answer for… but damn, they make good barley beer. We trade with them when we’re not fighting with them, you see. In the better times it’s all wine and beer, beer and wine.

Fronto: Common ground at last – excellent!… Actually, I’ve tried Gallic beer a number of times. It varies in taste from dirty baby water to armour polish. Never yet found a truly acceptable brew. That being said, I’ve had times when I will swear it is the sweetest nectar ever to pass my lips. But then we’ve all been there. Actually nothing ever will beat a good wine. I always thought I knew good wine, but it turns out I was all about quantity. Let me introduce you to Cathain. He will wean you off beer for life with his wine selections. And this from a land where they drink things that taste like feet.

Pavo: Feet-brew? Now I think we’ve been drinking in the same places – do they serve sweaty-ball bread to go with it? Perhaps a visit to this Cathain would be good.


We drink like Satyrs…

Interviewer:  What about barrack-life: the soldiers there must be like a family of sorts?

Pavo: No of-sorts about it. I mentioned Sura. He’s my oldest friend in the legion. I trust him with my life. But, by Mithras, he doesn’t half talk out of his arse: winning a pole vaulting competition with his – miniscule – tackle instead of a pole has to be his most absurd claim yet. Still, I look forward to his stories, especially on a long march – anything to raise the spirits. And speaking of people talking out of their arse, there was Quadratus, and his arse was rarely quiet. He was built like an ox, and he smelt like one too. Seriously, three men of his contubernium were admitted to the fort valetudinarium for medical treatment after suffering “a foul fog of Quadratus’ gut-gas” every night. And the ones in neighbouring contubernia rooms were not spared; they had to suffer the sound effects – parp, parp, honk, quack, splatter… all night, every night! He blamed the barley beer. Told you the Goths had a lot to answer for.

Fronto: It would be nice to say I knew what you were talking about. I’m a legate. We have our own tent and a veritable army of slaves to maintain it. ‘Course, I send most of the slaves away and my tent is often full of Galronus snoring or Antonius helping himself to my wine stock. That being the case, I would have to say that despite having lost some of my closest friends over the years – Priscus, Velius, Crispus, Palmatus and so on – my best friend is a man who, strictly speaking, is a barbarian. Galronus of the Remi. Always has my back. And sometimes my sister’s, but that’s a whole different story. It doesn’t matter whether you’re from Pavo’s time or mine, or whether you’re one of his ‘Goths’ or the Carthaginians or the Romans or the Gauls, you learn who your friends are when the iron is unsheathed. Seriously.

Pavo: By the God of the Light, I’ll drink to that.


Roman fortresses are all rather similar

Interviewer:  You are both men of the legions, but what about the states you each serve: Fronto, you fight for the Republic, Pavo, you march under the banner of Empire.

Fronto: (turns to Pavo) So am I right in understanding that you have one man in complete control of Rome? An Emperor, you said.

Pavo: Not at the moment, the emperor is dead, as I said, (eyes Fronto’s cup) less drinking and more listening. But soon, I hope, someone will emerge to take the empty throne and steady the chaos.

Fronto: Isn’t that basically a king? We drove out the kings and instituted a new political system entirely to avoid having a king again.

Pavo: That system failed. Way before my time, but I’ve read the histories. The Republic was a fine thing in theory, but first necessity then greed turned it all back to how it had been. Princeps, augustus, imperator…. yes, they are like kings. Still, a king can be wise or wicked, just as a republic can be strong or weak.

Fronto: In my day we fought tooth and nail to stop that very thing. We drove out Crassus and Marius and their like. With Caesar we reconstituted the true value of the republic.

Pavo: Hmm, you’re from 49 BC, aren’t you? Are you perchance travelling close to the River Rubicon this year?

Fronto: (Taking a large swig of wine) ‘La la la la la… I’m not listening.’



Interviewer:  What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

Fronto: For me it’s Verginius. Simply: Verginius. Let me tell you a story of a brother who became the worst enemy imaginable…

Pavo: A brother? I watched my only brother, Dexion, die, and shed not a tear. That same day, Gallus – the leader of the Claudia Legion before me – died too. Plenty of tears then. We should talk.

Fronto: (after a long silence) Is there a tavern nearby? We could blow this place. Where are we? Hang on… Wall slogans. Brutus sucks donkey.... This is the Suburra. We’re round the corner from the Laughing Swordsman.

Pavo: Sounds like one of Sura’s nicknames. Well, what are you waiting for? How does it go in Latin again: Nunc est Bibendum – to the tavern!


The tavern! Image by Dave Slaney from the forthcoming Pirate Legion


Written by SJAT

May 24, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Meet My Main Character

leave a comment »

I have been tagged by the lovely and talented Elaine Moxon on a blog h0p, the title of which is ‘Meet My Main Character’.

The first thing to do therefore is to play proper deference to my tagger. Elaine is a writer of the Wolf Spear Sagas, a series of as-yet-unpublished works based in the post-Roman dark ages. Though the books are not available for sale yet, I am privileged to have had the opportunity to read Elaine’s work after its polish but before any of you get it (blows smug raspberry) and I have to say that she will be one to watch with interest when the books hit the shelves. Keep that in mind as you pop on over to read her blog here.

Of course, having a number of series out and various short story collections, at first I deliberated as to which main character I should be introducing here. After all, I am best known by far for my Marius’ Mules Roman novels, but I think we’re at the stage, six books into the series, where Fronto should need very little introduction. And the main characters of my fantasy works vary with each volume, so that’s a complexity in itself. But really, I’ve just released the third volume in my Ottoman Cycle quadrilogy, and I’m sure a lot fewer folk will be familiar with him than with grumpy old Fronto. So here we go. This is a blog about the principal lead in the Ottoman Cycle…


1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historical figure/person?
The lead character in the Ottoman Cycle is a young man by the name of Skiouros. He is a Greek speaking orthodox Christian in a Muslim world. When the story opens in The Thief’s Tale, he and his brother Lykaion are in close contact and they are the subject of the first book. Skiouros is Greek for ‘Squirrel’, and the appellation I think fits him quite well. His brother Lykaion in Greek is ‘Wolf’. Again, I think this should give an opening idea of the character. Skiouros is a fictional figure that weaves in and out of real historical events and interacts with real historical personages.
2) When and where is the story set?
The Ottoman Cycle is set at the close of the 15th century and covers roughly half a decade in all, so the timeframe is reasonably tight. Though the prologue to the first volume opens in 1481, the story itself truly begins in 1490 and at the end of volume 3, we have only just moved into 1495. The story roves around, following a rough circle around the Mediterranean, beginning in Istanbul under the Sultan Beyazid II only thirty years after the conquest and the fall of the Byzantine empire. The stories in print thus far take us through Crete and into Africa, then on to the western Med. Without wanting to drop in spoilers, the third book is largely set in Italy, so there is a great variation in scene, though not in era.
3) What should we know about him/her?
Over three books Skiouros has been many things. He is nothing if not adaptable. But we shall concentrate for obvious reasons on his opening appearance, in the Thief’s Tale. As the title suggests, Skiouros is something of a street waif, chancer and pickpocket. As the reader discovers in the prologue, Skiouros and his brother Lykaion lived on a farm outside Hadrianople (modern Edirne) until the Ottoman devsirme took them. The devsirme was a draft that selected Christian children from Ottoman controlled Balkan regions and returned them to Istanbul, where they would be made to convert to Islam and then placed in positions of use in government or the military. Although it sounds tantamount to slavery, most of the famous rich, powerful and influential figures in Ottoman history began as Christian subjects that advanced through the devsirme. In the Thief’s Tale, Lykaion is taken to serve in the Janissaries – the Sultan’s guard. But Skiouros escapes as they reach the city and goes on the run. Spending the next decade living on the streets and on his wits, Skiouros builds up a useful skill-set, and remains in touch with his rigid, disapproving brother. Skiouros still longs for freedom and to return his brother to the world beyond the city walls. Skiouros is a thief, a cheat, a liar and more, but essentially not a wicked man despite it all.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Argh. Spoilers. Too easy to ruin the whole thing for new readers here. The main conflict is pretty much the meat of the plot in The Thief’s Tale, so I cannot say much about it. What I will say is that it heavily involves the difficult relationship between the two brothers and centres upon a burning desire for revenge. Beyond that you’ll have to read the book to unravel…
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Again, much the same. To detail that would be to spoil two books for new readers. Basically, Skiouros’ principle goal tends to mutate with circumstances and events, as such things tend to do. Initially his personal goal is to survive in a regime where his religion, ethnicity, language and culture are a minority that rarely stray beyond a small enclave, to keep himself hale and hearty and a free man, beholden to no one and with no commitments. A secondary goal of his is to persuade his brother – now a Muslim and staunch supporter of the Ottoman regime – to abandon his duty and flee to freedom, to return to the Greek world with him. These things are not set to be his only or final goals, though.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The Ottoman Cycle is a set series of four books. The first two (The Thief’s Tale & The Priest’s Tale) were released in 2013, and the third (The Assassin’s Tale) was released just over a week ago. The fourth and final volume is set for early next year and will be entitled The Pasha’s Tale. Plenty of info on all my work is available on my website at www.sjaturney.co.uk
And… in the interest of fun and frolics, to celebrate book 3’s release and this blog hop, if you would like a free copy of book 1 to dip your toes into the world of Skiouros and his brother, for the next three days, I have lowered the price of The Thief’s Tale on Smashwords to… NOTHING. Go get your freebie and find out what makes Skiouros tick for the rest of the series. Click HERE to go to Smashwords and buy the book, and use the code QJ36K to obtain a free copy in any electronic format you require.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

As noted above, The Assassin’s Tale is now out. The next volume in the series will be in the new year, and in between, on Halloween, the seventh novel in my Roman series will be released. Look for Marius’ Mules VII: The Great Revolt in late October.

* * * *

And that’s it for my waffling…

I’ve tagged just one more writer to take part in this blog hop, so keep a look out next Monday (16th) for the main character of:



Tim is a writer of Viking and Dark Age fiction. Check out his novel ‘Spear of Crom’. (Click the pic to go find it on Amazon)

spear of Crom COVER smaller

And check out his blog hop post next Monday (16th June) on his blog HERE


Written by SJAT

June 9, 2014 at 8:00 am