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You Who Shall Be Cursed in Death

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Pollione has just made up his mind to pursue Adalgisa when Flavio comes to him. "Sir. Sir! You must come quickly. There is great unrest in the grove of the Gauls; the sentries fear that they are preparing for battle."

Pollione swears and pulls on his armor. Flavio thinks they are preparing for battle, and Flavio is very rarely wrong about these things. He thinks again of Adalgisa, a fleeting thought, but though he likes to think himself a fervent lover, he is a servant of Dea Roma first and foremost. What she commands him, that he will do. He has hesitated, these two years and more, out of love for Norma, and then for Adalgisa, but he has always known that when Dea Roma gives the word at last, he will follow.

And the word had come, and the word was to go back to Rome. Very well, he shall do so with Adalgisa; he shall have both Rome and Adalgisa.

But there is something curious in the air, a magic that sets his senses tingling. He pauses. Pollione has enough magic to let him do a number of spells; it has come in very useful these last years, in skirmishes with the Gauls and their rough Druid-magic. He does not trust their magic. It is like their forests and groves: wild and strange, unpredictable and sometimes shocking. It is not orderly like the magic of the Romans, each spell made of steps that interlock in a logical fashion until the goal of the spell is met.

Norma had been filled to bursting with Druid-magic, and while he had loved her madly, he had never been quite comfortable around her for that reason. He had been almost relieved when his obsession with her had run its course, when he had found Adalgisa instead. Adalgisa, to his inner eye, has as much magic in her as Norma, perhaps more, but it lies quiet inside her. If he has its way, it will always lie quiet; or, when she returns to Rome with him, if the magic becomes restless, he will harness it and teach her the ways of Rome, the spells of the Romans.

And now Adalgisa has come and gone, but only to tell him that he should go back to Norma instead. Nonsenical thought! He shakes his head. He does not know what Adalgisa's purpose is in this. He knows Adalgisa loves him -- her sighs, the way she looks up shyly at him. And so he plans to pursue her, to carry her off from the very altar of their bloody god, and take her back to Rome.

Flavio has stood by, still as only a soldier can be still, as he has been thinking. Pollione jerks his head at him, and they go out of Pollione's hut together. (Pollione is looking forward to being back at Rome and having a proper house again.) He can see at a glance that Flavio has, if anything, understated the case; the cries in the air, the light of torches he can see from afar, and above all the Druid-magic thick in the air -- he can sense it much more strongly now -- all tell him that battle is not far off.

If it comes, then it comes. He snaps orders to some of the others, and they nod and go to carry them out. Dea Roma is a presence in his head; he can feel her there, pressing against his thoughts.

"Flavio," he says, "I will lead a company to the grove of the Gauls."

Flavio looks at him worriedly. "Sir, is this wise?"

Pollione replies, "I go to obtain Adalgisa."

Flavio looks even more worried, but says nothing; he knows by now that Pollione is not to be deterred when he has such a plan in mind, and he should also know that Pollione's magic will keep him safe. Pollione says to him, "I leave you behind to defend the camp, Flavio."

But Pollione does not get very far before he is surrounded by Druids carrying axes. His men raise their spears, but more worryingly, he also senses the Druid magic surrounding him, more powerful than he has ever sensed it, perhaps more powerful than his. He did not think this was possible, and despite himself he finds himself becoming a little afraid.

And one of the Druids moves, and battle is joined, axe against spear, and Pollione hears Flavio's voice behind him and knows that other Druids are engaging his men as well. And all of them have this powerful magic, so powerful that even his sense of Dea Roma is muted next to it, so powerful that he staggers and one of the Druid's axes knocks him to the ground.

He should by all rights be able to save himself by his magic, but he is being crushed by the Druid-magic he senses, still without understanding the source of it. And then he looks up; he looks up and sees -- O Dea -- he sees Norma and Adalgisa above him, tall and terrible as if they are themselves avenging goddesses, calling in ringing voice to the Druids, and he understands at last and completely that they, Norma and Adalgisa are together; that they have blended their magic together, that together their magic is so great and terrible that it is more powerful than his, more powerful than that of the Romans in Gaul; that against them and their god, now that they have united to lead the Gauls, Dea Roma cannot stand.

And, as he understands this, an axe comes slamming down on his head, and he enters oblivion.