The young Praetorian Centurion stood ramrod straight in front of the three legion commanders. Crastus, as the senior commander was presiding began.Click here to return to the book page
“Are you Marius Marcellus Cestus. Centurion of the Praetorian Guard?”
“You are charged here with gross dereliction of duty. That on the afternoon three days ago the protection of the Emperor Valerian was in your charge and due to your incompetence the Emperor was assassinated. Do you understand the charge?”
Marius flinched at the use of the word incompetence, and a slow flush built on his cheeks. Otherwise he showed no emotion and remained still, almost statue like as the charge was read out.
“Aye sir, I understand the charge.”
“And how do you plead to this charge?”
Claudius leaned forward from his seat on Crastus’ right. “Do you understand the consequences of pleading guilty? You know that guilty under these circumstances carries an automatic death sentence and this court is allowed no thought or measure of clemency?”
Claudius looked past Crastus to the third legion commander sitting on this panel. Schonberg took his cue from his colleague.
“I request that the scribes delete the plea from the record. There are circumstances here that are unique to this case and we need those taken into account. There may well be a lesser charge to which the defendant should answer.”
“I agree with my colleague,” Claudius spoke again and Crastus merely nodded.
“Strike the plea from the record.”
“Centurion, tell us exactly what happened.”
“As Valerian, myself and the three immediate guards rode through the narrow valley five miles south of here, we were ambushed. The small party of attackers rose from behind the concealing bushes near the road, arrows already nocked and bows drawn. We had little time to react. One of my men managed to raise his shield to defend the Emperor and intercepted two arrows, but was cut down by a third. The other two men of the close in team were hit by the first volley as well.”
“Two arrows hit Valerian’s horse as the trail guard unit and the forward guards turned and cut down the attackers.”
“What were you doing at this time?”
“I was on the other side of Valerian, he was between myself and the attackers, and I was initially unsighted.”
“And then what happened?”
“Well sirs, Valerian, as always rode an uncut stallion, a particularly high strung beast. It reared throwing Valerian and I was then desperately trying to get the beast under control.”
“What exactly happened to the Emperor?”
“He was thrown from his horse and his head hit a rock next to the road. Your doctor confirmed his neck broke on impact and we believe he was dead from that moment.”
“So the fall from the horse killed him?”
“That is what we believe happened.”
“And after that point.”
“The attackers were all killed, including their leader who was known to me, Sabinus, an officer of the Twelfth Legion who escaped after being captured here.”
“What happened to Valerian’s body? It is badly disfigured.”
“Sir, the stallion was enraged, out of control, it attacked the first thing it could see, which was the Emperor’s body. The horse trampled on his head several times but thankfully the Emperor was already dead.”
Crastus looked at the two men flanking him who shook their heads.
“We have no further questions.”
Crastus looked past the Praetorian to Maximus, who headed the guard detail for the tribunal.“Take the prisoner away.”