Thanks to the folks at Del Rey, here's an extract from Alan Smale's soon-to-be-released Clash of Eagles. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Perfect for fans of action-adventure and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors. Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined. Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.
The Iroqua war party hit them two days later in the early afternoon, rising like ghosts from the long grasses to fling their spears and fire their arrows into the side of Fabius’s Seventh Cohort, howling like banshees all the while. Though they had been on the march for six hours without a break, the Seventh responded instantly, bursting out of its marching line to hammer the braves with Roman steel. The assault turned into a running battle amid the trees of hickory and beech, and if the Iroqua were surprised at the turn of speed a fully armored legionary could attain, their surprise generally did not last long.
Throughout the Legion, Roman discipline prevailed. The cohorts behind and in front of the Seventh came to order, the nearer groups dashing into the fray while the centuries farther out hunkered down in defense. Sure enough, two more Iroqua bands burst out from behind the trees, one assaulting Marcellinus and the Roman standards at the head of the Legion and the other aiming to destroy the baggage train and perhaps capture the Romans’ slaves for their own use.
Neither attempt succeeded. The elite troops of Pollius Scapax mowed down the forward band of Iroqua with surgical skill and utter ruthlessness, and Marcellinus bloodied his gladius in combat for the first time on this campaign, cutting down four braves and crippling another. Meanwhile, in the rear the terrified Powhatani and other Algon--Quian slaves circled the wagons and aided the stragglers of the Sixth in holding off the ululating Iroqua until the massed line of the Fourth slammed into the warriors, slaughtering them to a man.
Other smaller bands of painted Hesperians appeared helter--skelter amid the trees, and the Fifth and Second were the next to engage in a running fight in the meadows. This ended with the remains of the war parties encircled by Romans. Some twenty of the Iroqua tried to escape by climbing into a tree; the Romans set the tree ablaze and made them choose between death by fire and death by steel. Dozens of others, trapped on the ground, threw aside their slings and bows.
If by surrendering they expected to be spared to join their eastern brethren in the slave line, the Iroqua were sorely disappointed. The Legion needed no more slaves, and Marcellinus would not have trusted a warrior in the role as readily as a fisherman. Slavery was an economic contract between thinking beings, but Marcellinus knew these Iroqua to be feral creatures who would never knuckle under.
After mourning Thorkell Sigurdsson so recently, the men were not inclined to award their captives easy deaths, and Marcellinus would hardly insist on such a thing. Several more of his legionaries were dead and others still thrashed on the ground with poisoned flesh wounds, and he had no sympathy for an enemy that adopted such foul tactics as the Iroqua. He withdrew to secure the front of the legionary line and left his troops to their revenge. The screams of the braves troubled him little enough. He hoped the gruesome sounds would travel far enough to deter any further Hesperian foolishness.
They had marched sixteen miles that day, and it would have to be enough. Marcellinus sent in his tribunes and Scapax to declare a halt to the festivities, and his men cheerfully yielded and threw up the castra then and there in the clearing. Camp had never been set up so quickly.
“I see you’ve put the Briton in his place,” Corbulo said, dismounting to walk beside him. “A worthy decision.”
Gaius Publius Marcellinus was leading his horse, allowing it to walk unencumbered for a while. For his own part, it felt good to shake the stiffness out of his legs, and the brisk exercise was helping to shift the fog from his thoughts.
He missed Aelfric’s easy companionship but was not about to confess it. “You were right,” he said shortly. “It’s easy for a man to grow careless.”
The views in Appalachia had often been stunning. Here in the lowlands, often surrounded once more by forest, the tedium of marching had taken over again. By now Marcellinus heartily endorsed Tully’s conviction that no Roman would want to farm here. The land had become ungodly flat. His eyes ached for want of a hill or even a hummock. He had never seen such a terrain. Like all learned men, Marcellinus knew that the earth was round like a ball, but even for him it was easy to imagine the world petering off into an increasingly featureless desert as they marched out of reality altogether.
“Killing Fuscus,” said his tribune. “Another worthy simplification. Easier not to hear his lying tongue at all than risk being misled by it.”
With uncanny precision Corbulo had just congratulated Marcellinus on the second matter that was troubling him. He could not dispel the knowledge that cutting down the word slave in cold blood had been shameful, despite the provocation, and was possibly as bad an error as that of the Roman captain who had slaughtered the Norse pirates. Information was always valuable. And in the Praetor’s personal experience, his acting in anger had rarely produced laudable results.
They hiked in silence. Marcellinus recognized that an olive branch was being offered, a bid to return to their former camaraderie, but could not find the words to respond. Corbulo’s moment of failure still hung in the air, surely the cause of the remaining awkwardness between them. Everything’s all right, Lucius, he wanted to say, and I think no worse of you. But that would admit the possibility that another man might have. Corbulo had ambition, and a persistent rumor about him panicking on the battlefield could be deadly to his career, sinking his chances of one day getting his own legion or advancing in politics. Somehow the thing must be dealt with without being acknowledged.
Unexpectedly, Corbulo raised the topic. He turned to Marcellinus and said: “I apologize for my dithering back at the ambush. Thank you for plucking me upright. It was well done.”
Marcellinus recovered quickly from his surprise and waved his hand dismissively. “We were all startled.” He leaned over. “I hope my sandal print in your ribs is not causing you too much anguish.”
Corbulo laughed. “Always better to be beaten up by a friend.”
“I would never mention it to another soul, you know.”
“And I thank you for that,” was all Corbulo said, but Marcellinus felt the man’s spirits lift.
If only Marcellinus’s mood could be elevated so easily.
“I responded to murder with murder,” he said abruptly.
Marcellinus bit his tongue and walked on, facing straight ahead.
“What choice did you have?” Corbulo asked. “You did what you had to. I’d have done the same.”
Marcellinus looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. “Very well, then. I should ride again.”
“We each have times when we doubt,” said his First Tribune quietly. “But we just need to stick together and get the job done. Whether or not there’s gold here, we can make this work for Hadrianus, you and I. In the conquest and annexation of such a vast area we can cover ourselves in glory. You can retire in comfort. I can move on to higher things. Let us not be enemies, Gaius. And let us not forget who rules this world.”
“I never shall,” said Marcellinus. “Count on it.”
As the month of Julius gave way to Augustus, the heat soared. The sky became white with humidity, and the air felt like a damp sponge against their skin. The shade of the few remaining stands of trees offered little relief. The moisture invaded the fabric of the tents and wouldn’t come out; by night the castra stank like a barnyard.
The occasional downpours just made it worse. The rain came down in giant sheets of water that did not freshen the air but merely sat rancid overnight and then boiled off the soil in the morning sun in great mists.
Marcellinus had not known the air could hold so much liquid. Beneath his armor his tunic was permanently wet and would not dry out at night. His crotch felt like a fouled bird’s nest.
Bengal had sometimes been like this. But at least they’d had a cooling monsoon every afternoon and drier air by night. Here in Nova Hesperia, so far from the sea, the wind had forgotten how to blow. The soldiers were surly, and the horses spooked at nothing, their ears flat back against their heads.
The Hesperians were still out there. Another nine of his legionaries died, picked off and mutilated gruesomely while collecting firewood or stalking the white--tailed deer. With supplies this short, forbidding the men to hunt was futile, yet all too often they themselves became the prey.
By now everyone knew that they were going on, that there could be no return to the Chesapica before winter, that once the weather turned cold they would be building a fortress and staying put out here in the wilderness.
The heat and damp and uncertainty played with men’s tempers. Marcellinus lost an additional seven soldiers to violence when a brawl turned murderous and he had to execute the culprits. Once more he cursed the ill mix of the men given him to command: raw Nubians, Magyar mercenaries, veteran Teutons, and even some patrician Romans, a mixed bag of races and languages that turned his centurions into diplomats who spent as much time coaxing their men not to kill one another as they did in maintaining their battle readiness.
His feelings of isolation grew. Urbs Roma became a marbled dream. And just as his legion eroded further into squalor and ill temper, the barbarians around them seemed to grow ever more civilized.
Though they saw few natives, they passed plenty of evidence of their activities. The tents and lean--tos of the east had given way to firmer structures of wood and wattle and daub. In some areas the remains of broad tree stumps showed that the locals had torn down the forests for farmland. Though Marcellinus was no lover of trees for trees’ sake, he was surprised at how much of an effect this had on him.
The Romans became the beneficiaries of the increased cultivation of the land; they swarmed the corn like locusts, leaving only stalks behind them. Deer would still appear startlingly close to the Legion’s path and die quickly in a hail of arrows. The soldiers often had to pull fifteen or twenty arrows out of a downed buck before they could skin and dress it for the fire.
Despite their living off the land as much as they were able, the Hesperian corn still provided a paltry yield compared with the robust crops of Europa. Leogild’s baggage carts continued to grow lighter as the victuals dwindled. A few thousand men on the march ate a great deal.
As long damp day followed long damp day, Marcellinus saw more and more evidence of how the local tribes were taming the land. And more than once he could have sworn he saw an aviator fly by, banking and swooping behind the trees.
In his dreams they wheeled over him in a giant flock, and he awoke with his ears still full of the beating of their wings.
Now the Legion started coming across the mounds: small conical earthworks in the clearings by the abandoned villages. In the days that followed, the number of villages and the size of the mounds both showed a marked increase.
“This is more like it,” said Marcellinus as they rode past a mound fifteen feet tall.
“Piles of earth?” Corbulo said.
“Yes, just piles of earth, patted down nice and neat. We could put one up in an hour that would put this one to shame. But these people aren’t Romans. For them to build a mound like this is a triumph of effort and organization. And these are just the beginning. Ahead, there are cities of these things.”
“Ah, big piles of earth,” said Corbulo. “You should have said so sooner.”
“Support me, Lucius,” Marcellinus said quietly. “Your sarcasm grows wearying.”
“Of course. Sorry.”
Leogild cleared his throat. “Sir, we should talk again about supplies.”
“Supplies, always supplies.” Corbulo put his hand up to his temple as if deafened by the Visigoth.
Leogild eyed him. “Fine. You don’t want to eat, that’s more for everyone else.”
Until now they had scavenged from the fields and forests as they’d gone by. Now the tended forests were giving way to plains, and—-at long last—-Bjarnason’s promised fields of tall, odd--looking, but well--tended corn were replacing the earlier sickly patches. The cornfields were separated by stands of nut trees; by this time nobody doubted that the Hesperians had transformed the landscape around them. But reaping the new bounty would take time.
“We march on,” Marcellinus said. “Let’s travel light and get this done. Their crops aren’t quite ready yet, anyway. Once we’ve taken their city, an organized harvest from these fields will feed us to bursting.”
Corbulo looked relieved; he obviously had feared a delay in reaching their goal. As for Marcellinus, now suddenly freed from constant worry about running out of food, he felt positively giddy.
The gamble was going to pay off. Once they’d harvested the corn, the Legion could overwinter here in relative comfort. He would even have time before winter to send an exploratory cohort or two to march on farther or lead it himself, maximizing their westward expansion. Even without gold, Hadrianus might be pleased at their annexation of so much land.
All they had to do was take the city.
“Give the orders that any redskin farmers who don’t flee are not to be harassed. From now on the corn is to be left undisturbed. We can come back for it at need.”
“Four days I’ll give you,” said Leogild. “After that I’ll counsel a day or two to restock the wagons before going farther.”
“Agreed,” the Praetor said.
On they went. The stillness of the air was uncanny, and the utter absence of any breeze was stifling. Marcellinus rarely saw a face that was not dripping with sweat or passed a soldier who did not reek. Much more of this and the leather and wool would rot on their bodies.
In Europa such an epic trek could have taken them from Urbs Roma almost as far as Parisi in Gaul, but in Europa the way would be well signed and the rivers already bridged. Nova Hesperia was a giant land with no roads at all aside from the one they were creating. This was going to be one hell of a province for a Roman legate to administer one day.
To Marcellinus it felt as if the past weeks had carried the Legion on a long march through time. First, the poverty--racked fisher--gatherers of the Powhatani by the giant bay of the Chesapica, at the mercy of the tide and the berry plant. Next, the woodland husbandry of the Iroqua, savage to invaders but gentle to the land, cultivating their meadows, burning their undergrowth, shooting their deer. Now, here in the alluvial bottomlands of deepest Nova Hesperia, the Cahokiani farmed their fields and lived in stout wooden huts that represented a giant leap forward from the animal--skin tents and lean--to shacks on the coast. Such settled and well--ordered agriculture was essential to support the Great City they sought, and judging by the increasing size of the Cahokiani settlements they passed, that city must now be very close.
Soon it would be time to fight.