I asked questions of my tutors, the servants, and the soldiers who seemed to fill the streets during those months, and managed to find out that my father was away visiting other leaders, trying to forge alliances and organise defence against the rumours of barbarian attacks.
The servants assured me that everything would continue as it had been before the Romans left, but the soldiers looked surly and edgy, and spent longer than usual on the practice grounds outside the crumbling town walls. I spent my lonely hours watching them, and then practising my own clumsy uncoordinated thrusts and parries with the wooden sword and small shield father had given me last Christmas, under the affectionate guidance of my war tutor, Crixus.
It was in the third month of my father’s absence that the engineers arrived and the town guard, along with any man found idle, were put to work building and rebuilding the delapidated walls. A new gate was made and erected, solid oak twice as thick as the old gate, and a new, taller, watchtower was built looking out over the forests that protected us from the coast.
In the fourth month, any pretence that we still lived in the country villa was abandoned, along with my old life. I lived in the fortified town now, it felt safe here, where the villa had come to feel isolated and exposed. As I wandered through the streets during the late afternoons after my lessons I looked upon the grim faces of citizen and soldier alike, and I knew the truth.
War was coming.