The remains of the century stood at the ready behind the gates. Oclatinius couldn’t help glancing down at them, though he was supposed to be watching the advancing Parthians. Half of the legionaries could barely stand. They leant on their spears or on one another for support.
He caught Quintillius’ eye, the centurion standing behind the ranks, surrounded by a small reserve of the fittest troops who had somehow avoided injury or illness. Quintillius held his gaze for a short while, but Oclatinius couldn’t read his expression. That was a skill he would have to work on, he thought.
He saw Bricius in the front line and waved the winged penis at him. Bricius mouthed the word, “Doomed.” Then he swayed, and the soldier next to him grasped his arm to support him.
Oclatinius turned his attention back to the advancing Parthians. They looked a mighty sight, all mounted except for the handful carrying the battering ram, and a few carrying rickety ladders. Their mastery over the horses amazed Oclatinius every time he saw them, keeping them under perfect control, steering them as if by thought alone, given how imperceptible the movement of the riders’ heels and hands were.
His heart beat faster as they neared. He signalled to Quintillius their distance, as best as he could estimate it. They appeared to be in no hurry, confident in their superiority over the fragile Romans. When they were within bowshot, the men with the ram broke into a run, and the horses trotted alongside them.
Oclatinius shouted down to the centurion.
“Here they come!”
Quintillius yelled a command.
“Open the gates!”