Dark Queen


Chariots from Ancona

“You’re taking armed battle chariots to Rome painted in your colours?” Maxim the chariot maker was in full flight. “You’ve been in the desert too long and been touched with the sun.”

“They said he was full of sand,” Sara said, pointing at Cal, pleased it wasn’t her in trouble.

“The deserts of Tunis are not the same as the streets of Rome,” Maxim said, Martina hovering alongside, her slate ready to amend the order.

“We’ll just go around the walls, not through the city,” Miena, Cal’s boss-wife said trying to keep the discussion on a sensible level.

“It won’t matter, you’ll be seen and the Palace will know before you get half way round, you know the gossip in Rome.”

“One way is if we covered them then they wouldn’t know,” Miena said.

“Maybe we should’ve left the golden wolf’s head off the sides,” Helga said.

“Cana likes his picture on them,” Karli said, holding baby Petra while Cana rubbed against her legs.

“Mark my words, whatever you do, the Palace will know sooner or later and they won’t stand back and watch for long,” Maxim said.

“Luckily we always pay our bills in advance then,” Cal said. “They must know we’ve got soldiers in Tunis. The Governor there is taking coin from us each month and he must be reporting back to Rome.”

“Tunis is a long way from the city walls,” Maxim said.

“These chariots are for patrolling our port land south of the city. Everyone on the city walls will see so Rome will know exactly what we’ve got. I’m sure even Caesar himself will know that we’re got battle chariots before we unload them, so there’s no point in worrying,” Cal said. “And we need another of those orange passenger chariots we got last time for the girls in Rome, and two sets of the matching harness as well a harness for Petra.”

“Petra’s not a horse,” Karli shot back.

“A pretty harness to keep her safe in the wagon when we travel, something to stop her falling out.”

“I’ll help design it,” Ameena said, now by Karli’s side ready to hold Petra if needed.

“I’ll take you to our finest harness maker,” Martina, Maxim’s wife said. “I’ll get him to craft a perfect baby harness for your precious growing child.”

“All those that want to go to that farm we got those nice horses for those girls in Rome can go and get two more the same, Miena will sort coins,” Cal said. That started a charge for the wagons. Everyone that wasn’t sorting baby harness was going.

“Ava and me will drive, we know the way best,” Sara yelled, running to get to the driver’s seat before anyone else could claim it.

“Miena’s not on yet,” Helga yelled as Sara started the wagon moving.

“She can catch up,” Sara yelled back.

“She’s got the coins, we should wait,” Heidi said. The wagon stopped.


Everyone else now occupied, Cal was able to take an empty wagon and slip away towards Ancona proper, heading to the business in the back streets that sold ex army equipment.

“Welcome back my friend,” the shop-keep said as Cal stepped into the front room, a scattering of scruffy stock spread around to make the room seem fuller than it was. “I’ve managed to get a good amount of what you wanted, come through the back,” the shop-keep waving Cal forward. This was only a small room, but it was well stacked. “I’ve got tents, including two large ones. Spears and shields and some leather aprons. Good ones are getting harder to find but I’ll keep looking.”

“Helmets?” Cal asked.

“Only those in the front room. Not good enough for you Sir.”


The shop-keep’s eyes lit up. “Only managed four, but they’re the best quality and piles of matching bolts too. A few long swords as well and a good selection of knives and daggers, some with holders.” He was rummaging under a large cloth, pulling it back to reveal the mentioned weapons. “I kept them out of sight as you requested.” His left arm reaching up to touch the side of his nose. “I can keep me mouth tight when it’s worth it.”

“You’ve done well. We better settle up.”

“I’ve kept the prices low since I know you always pays on time. If you like I’ll include those helmets out front, you might be able to fix some.”

Cal walked out to inspect, doubting any would be able to be fixed and deciding it wasn’t worth asking where they came from either. “I’ll take all that cooking gear too.” Cal was pointing to a pile of assorted iron tripods and racks near the helmets.

The final bill was really quite reasonable and together they loaded it all on the single wagon, weapons hidden under the pile of tents.

“More helmets, weapons and crossbows next time,” Cal said as they finished.

“I’ll try,” the shop-keep said, smiling still from the easy sale. “And I’ll look for more leathers too.”

‘Make sure you wash the blood off first,’ Cal said under his breath as he drove away, heading back to Maxim’s Chariot Works to check on progress. The other wagon wasn’t back, but Karli and Ameena were taking turns in holding the lead on the harness fitted to baby Petra as she crawled around the back of the home wagon.

“This is a great idea,” Karli said when she saw Cal. “Petra loves it too.”

“Where’s the others?” Ameena asked.

“Getting two horses for those girls with the delivery business in Rome,” Cal said.

- - -

Cal had two of the six battle chariots loaded before the horse choosing crew returned, two majestic tan coloured horses tied to the back of the wagon.

“They’re as good as the last ones,” Sara yelled as they drove through the entrance to Maxim’s yard.

“They were the same price,” Miena said when the wagon stopped.

The commotion had brought Martina out to check, still carrying her slate. Cal thought she must sleep with it in case she got orders in her dreams.

“Just magnificent animals. I’ll get our master harness maker to measure them to make the most perfect harness you’ll see. I picture extra frills around the joins and maybe tassels too. Make sure they turn people’s heads.” Martina was in full flight, taking the others with her. “If we used black leather it would highlight their colour and the cost is hardly any more.” The other women were nodding agreement. It was then that Sara spotted the pile of goods in the other wagon and after poking Ava to join her, made a direct line to that wagon.

“These helmets are no good,” She yelled. “We should have gone with you, we know what’s best.”

“Under the tents,” Cal said quietly.

“Can we try it on a chariot,” Sara yelled when she saw the first crossbow. Cal nodded.

“I’ve found the bolts,” Ava said, nearly as loud as Sara. The two of them struggling to get the heavy weapon from the wagon back.

“You’re not going to let them shoot it here,” Miena said, coming to supervise.

“Just a little test,” Cal said.

“We’ll test it good,” Sara said, more quietly as she needed her breath to manoeuvre the crossbow towards the mounting post on one of the chariots waiting to be loaded.

“Try not to shoot a horse,” Miena muttered, shaking her head.

“We won’t,” Ava said, getting ready to help Sara arm the weapon.


By the time the two warriors were ready to fire the first test bolt, quite a crowd had gathered, even the slave who was looking after Maxim’s son was watching. Sara and Ava were discussing their first target, finally settling on a wooden fence post, Sara now on the trigger and Ava watching for problems.

“Fire!” Ava yelled.

Cal heard a twang as the bow string was released then the cheer as the pair yelled their success.

“That’s enough,” Miena said. “We know it works now.”

“We need more practice so we can hit Roman soldiers every time,” Sara yelled.

“Barbarian soldiers,” Miena corrected quickly.

“That’s what she said,” Ava said. “Barbarians. That’s what we hit.”

“Enough fun, we need to get the rest of these chariots loaded,” Cal said.

“One more test, Ava hasn’t had a go,” Sara said.

“When we get to our port,” Cal said. “You can wait. It won’t be long.”

“Hurry up and get these chariots loaded,” Sara yelled.

With help, Cal quickly had the remaining four battle chariots loaded and secured before he mentioned that the Chariot for the girls wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow.

- - -

Six days to Rome. They knew this road well. Regular places to stop and sites to camp for the night. Even though Sara tried to speed the trip, the rest held their pace.

“We’ve got to go careful for the freight,” Helga said, their wagon loaded with four chariots.

“And the extra horses aren’t used to racing yet,” her twin sister Heidi said.


The last night, while they camped on the hill overlooking the city, discussion turned to the path for tomorrow. Usually it was straight along the road, through the city wall east gate and onward to their agent’s home. This was the first time they’d needed to get to their new port land without going through the city.

“I can’t see any roads going where we need to,” Sara said, peering into the setting sun.

“We could just go as normal and turn off at the city walls, and drive right around,” Cal said.

“The guards will see us,” Karli said.

“We’ll go so fast they won’t know what’s happening,” Sara said.

“We’ll go careful so we don’t attract attention,” Miena said. “Remember we’re just simple traders.”

“We should wear our oldest clothes,” Ava said.

“And leave our hair uncombed,” Sara added.

“We’ll do all that and just go careful and see what happens. No attacking if we get stopped. We’re just traders doing a delivery,” Cal said.



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