Best Ancient Rome Books (fiction and nonfiction)

Pollice Verso *oil on canvas *97,4 x 146,6 cm *1872

Welcome to a list of the best books about Ancient Rome. This comprises two lists: fiction and nonfiction.

Best Ancient Rome Fiction

5. Under the Eagle (Eagles of the Empire #1)

Under the eagle

Under The Eagle (part of Simon Scarrow’s bestselling Eagles of the Empire series) is a double-time march in the footsteps of the Ancient Roman legions. What I like to categorise as sword-and-shield historical fiction, expect plenty of nail-biting fights and gritty detail as you watch the lives of Cato and Macro play out on the barbarian frontier of the Roman Empire.

The protagonists are written around each other in the best possible way: inexperienced intellectual Cato and toughened veteran centurion Macro. Easy reading which shouldn’t take you long to finish and is more than likely to get you hooked on the series. It did for me!

4. Dictator (Cicero Trilogy #3)


Political thrillers and Ancient Rome go together like tea and biscuits, and Robert Harris proves himself to be a masterful composer of that ensemble in Dictator. In it he brings together two titans of the Late Roman Republic, Cicero and Caesar.

Ambition, corruption and uncertainty are three of the hallmarks of the book and the period. Set during one of the pivotal moments of Roman history, this novel certainly deserves its place in the top 5 historical novels set in Ancient Rome.

I misbehaved and skipped ahead to the third in the trilogy, but you can find Imperium (Vol 1) and Lustrum (Vol 2) by following the links.

3. Fire in the East (Warrior of Rome #1)

Fire in the East falls into the same sub-genre as #5, but Harry Sidebottom’s thrilling Ancient Rome fiction series is significantly more developed. I say developed to avoid calling it more sophisticated. That would be unfair to Simon Scarrow, whose legionary romps fill a slightly different niche.

The series follows Ballista, a barbarian who has become a leader in the later Roman army. What I loved most about this historical novel is the message of one man standing tall against seemingly impossible odds. He is a barbarian at the heart of an empire which views his kind as backwards and untrustworthy. His task is to hold a small fortress against the mightiest foe Rome ever faced. It’s impossible not to root for that kind of underdog!

If you do give it a go and enjoy it, I highly recommend reading on to #5 in the series, Wolves of the North; an absolutely fantastic read!

 2. First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome #1)

First man in rome

Politics, manipulation, deceit and ambition. Colleen McCullough’s gripping Masters of Rome series really does stand on the top rung of Roman Empire historical fiction. She takes us all the way through from Marius and Sulla to Pompey and Crassus and finally the great man himself, Caesar.

Masters of Rome is the first instalment and, as is so often the case in historical fiction series, the first outshines the rest. Absolutely a recommended read for any fans of the sordid politics of Ancient Rome.

1. I, Claudius

I claudius

This is a book which not only changed the way historical fiction about Ancient Rome is approached, but it has also influenced the way we think about the emperor Claudius. Many of the assumptions we make as students or observers of Claudius’ rule are grounded to some extent in this fantastic novel.

I, Claudius treats a man who rose unwittingly to the head of the Roman Empire in a very human way, portraying him as a simple man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Robert Graves captures the essence of Roman politics and high society just as well as, if not better than, the above author. But he goes further in creating a compelling story which will immerse you in the imperial court of Ancient Rome.

Best Ancient Rome Nonfiction

5. Ancient Rome on Five Denarii A Day

Five denarii

I love the concept of this book. It tries to bring history out of the past and reconstruct it in a way which lets you really experience a lost age. A travel guide for a long dead civilisation with a good sense of humour, Ancient Rome on Five Denarii A Day is worth picking up if the drier, heavier history books aren’t really your thing.

4. Annals and Histories (Tacitus)


Unlike the above book, Annals and Histories isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of a good read. Tacitus lived in the period he is writing about, which makes his contribution to the historical record invaluable. With the painstaking care of a diligent chronicler, he takes the reader through the first century AD from the death of Augustus to the death of Domitian.

Undeniably, this should take a prominent place on the bookshelf of any would-be historian looking to gain a deeper knowledge of Ancient Rome and draw their own conclusions from a first-hand account.

3. The Twelve Caesars (Suetonius)


Another primary source, Suetonius differs from Tacitus in a significant way. The Twelve Caesars shows us much of the world explored by Robert Graves and Colleen McCullough in their novels, the public politics and courtly relations. But Suetonius has an advantage over them beyond having been present in the first century AD. He also lived at the imperial court.

This access and his willingness to lay all bare before the reader makes The Twelve Caesars more than just another stuffy contemporary account. The narrative is interspersed with anecdotes surrounding the Caesars’ private lives. These can range from who had an affair with whom to which poison was placed in whose cup.

2. SPQR (Mary Beard)


Mary Beard is my favourite historian because she has a brilliant ability to hone in on the daily lives of ordinary people in Ancient Rome. You can see this in her documentary series, Meet the Romans, which I’ll embed the YouTube version of below.

As for SPQR, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I’ve noticed a trend in history publishing recently where it seems that all we’re getting are new books which tell the same tired story in a different way. This couldn’t be less true of Mary Beard’s history of Ancient Rome. She captures small details often glossed over by other writers which add real value to the reader’s experience. Her entire approach is based on the brilliant idea that, no matter how small or insignificant, the stories of every individual in history are worth taking time to discover, understand and describe.

1. Rubicon


Tom Holland’s Rubicon manages to achieve everything a history of Ancient Rome should rightly aim for. My only regret about this book is that it only covers the end of the Roman Republic, because it’s that good you won’t want it to end!

The author uses a narrative history approach to lead you in through the gates of Rome and along its streets. You meet the important people and the common man. You experience their world and witness the great triumphs and tragedies of their lives. What stands out most to me about Rubicon is how the author brings this distant era of history into the present and draws parallels between the world of the Caesars and our own. A five star history!

Helpful online resources

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Best Viking Books (fiction & non-fiction)


Welcome to a list of the best books about Vikings. This comprises two lists: fiction and non-fiction.

Best Viking Fiction

5. Oddin’s Child (Viking #1)

Oddin's child

Oddin’s Child is a fascinating tale which blends fantasy and historical fiction in one. Thorgils is intelligent, adaptable and possesses the gift of second sight. While being somewhat less believable than the other viking novels on this list, it is nonetheless a great read.


4. The Whale Road (Oathsworn #1)

The whale road

The Whale Road combines two of the best marauding groups in history, Huns and Vikings. A group of Norse explorers head out on the dangerous waters of the Whale Road in the search for Attila the Hun’s lost treasure. Who can argue with that?


3. Blood Eye (Raven #1)

Blood eye

Giles Kristian’s first novel in this gripping trilogy tells the story of Osric, a man with a sinister past and a crimson eye. He is soon thrown into the brutal and treacherous life of a viking seafarer. Is his best chance at survival to become one the feared vikingr?

Click here to find out!

2. The Long Ships: A Saga of the Viking Age

The long ships

Much like my own novel, Vikingr (sorry, I couldn’t resist), Bengtsson’s saga is a coming-of-age story which follows the exploits of a young Norseman who grows to become a proud viking warrior. This saga sits high on the list owing to its quality as a historical fiction epic.


1. The Last Kingdom (Saxon Stories #1)

The last kingdom

This is the first novel in Bernard Cornwell’s series set during the viking invasion of England. You can find The Last Kingdom on Amazon Kindle here.



Best Viking Non-fiction

Chronicles of the Vikings

Chronicles of the Vikings

This is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the Vikings or who wants to write about them. It’s the Viking story told from their own perspective, an inside scoop on the culture that terrified Europe for centuries.

Here on Amazon.

Vikings: A Dark History of the Norse People

Vikings a dark history of the norse people

I’ll recommend Vikings as a good general introduction to the Norse people. It’s particularly good for the photographs and illustrations contained within, which enable you to better visualise life among the Vikings.

Helpful online resources

  • You can find an extremely helpful list of the 45 best viking novels on Historical Novels Info
  • There is another ranked list of Viking novels on Goodreads
  • And a list of fiction relating to Vikings on Viking Answer Lady which is a very useful resource for anyone with an interest in the Viking Age.

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Alice stretched her small arms up to grasp the cupboard handle, her pink fingertips only just managing to brush the brass ring. She was standing on tiptoes, legs quivering. Her back was arched so that her new violet frock wouldn’t brush against the counter. Every surface in the house was covered by a film of dust and grime. Her ma would be furious if any stains appeared on the bright cloth of her skirt.

“Alice, what are you doing there?” Ma asked.

Falling back onto the heels of her feet, Alice lowered her gaze to stare at the mucky tiled floor of the pantry. Her shoulders hunched forwards, expecting a rebuke. “Grandma asked me to get her old sewing box down for her.” She said, pouting at the injustice of being caught red-handed trying to do a good deed.

To her surprise, Ma’s hand lighted on her shoulder in a gentle, reassuring grasp. When she spoke, her voice was soft as lamb’s wool and sweet as raspberry jam. “Sweetheart, you know your grandmother is…” She began, before seeming to think of a better way to express what she was thinking. “Grandma forgets things, Alice. She gets confused. You needn’t go around fetching her things.”

“But I want to see what’s inside.” Alice said, her voice rising to a high pitch and her lips closing in a stern pout. “She said I’d find it interesting.”

“Do you like ​sewing?”

“No… But maybe there’s treasure inside.”

Alice shuffled her feet. Her small toes brushed away grey must to reveal strips of ivory white tile. They looked like the stripes on a zebra’s hide and she had a sudden desire to visit the zoo. There wouldn’t be any zebras, but perhaps she would see a fierce lion stalking its enclosure. Alice always enjoyed watching the big, hairy apes swinging around their cages. If her parents agreed to leave grandma’s house early, she might persuade them to spend the rest of the afternoon at the zoo. Her round face lit up in an absent-minded smile.

“Alright, here you go. Take it to grandma.”

Ma chuckled as she handed Alice the faded mahogany box. From the sinking expression on her face and the way she slouched out of the room, Ma could tell that her daughter’s interest in sewing box treasures had fast faded. Had she been as fickle in her childhood? She tutted under her breath. Firm in the back of her mind was a memory from her eighth Christmas. She had begged for months to have a china doll in a baby blue dress. When it came, the ever-watching eyes and frozen, chilling face had haunted her dreams for months. It had likely found its way onto a rubbish heap somewhere, and good riddance.

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Whore of Rome 2


As I stood abandoned on the empty street, my surroundings began to take shape. It was not so much black that night. The darkness was grey, draining the colour out of everything around me until the world drowned in dull monochrome.

But it was not long, as I stood waiting for some sign of what I should do next, before the streets of the Subura, Rome’s slum, came back to life. It was not the same vibrant, boisterous life of the forum, but something grimier and more sordid.

An oil lamp sputtered into life a hundred yards from where I stood, at the opening to another alleyway. It had been crafted with some trick by a canny potter so that its muddy yellow haze spread no further than the doorway below it.

More lamps were ignited along the dirt street, illuminating walls smeared with grime, soot and human refuse up to their eaves. One burned more bravely than the rest, drooping from the upper sill of a slanted window.

A woman leaned out above the avenue, bathing herself in the crimson light. She had heavy curves and was naked apart from the slick brown hair which hung wet over her shoulders. In a deep, alluring voice she sang a bawdy tune to draw out the creatures of the night.

Whore of Rome


Sorry that I haven’t posted recently. I got unexpected inspiration from a comments chat with John H. Loase and ended up starting a new project. Here’s an excerpt from it!

Don’t be fooled by the title, it is not erotic fiction. The title is inspired by the Whore of Babylon from Revelation.

It was a straight road where the Appian Way ran on between two of Rome’s many hearts. After a while, our sore calves and mangled feet would not carry us any further. Petro led the way down a narrow break between the tall buildings on our right.

The alleyway was shaded and cool. As we staggered through it trailing thick droplets of blood in our wake, I desperately wished that we had some water. I said as much to Petro and he waved me forwards.

“Look, there’s a hill right in front of us.” He said. “Out in the country you’ll always find at least one spring on a hillside.”

As he spoke, we reached the end of the alleyway where the backs of the shops and houses had been either built up to the foot of the hill, or else carved out of it. Petro scrambled hand over foot up the beginning of the steep cliff.

I watched him climb, nervous about following him and wondering what such a great cliff was doing in the middle of a city. In my mind, the city had always been a flat place with every street paved with gold and rare silks. I was already beginning to realise how childish those thoughts had been.

“I told you so!” Petro cooed from a perch more than twenty feet above me. “Come look at this.”

My skinny legs and arms carried me over the sharp ledges and up the short faces of bare, living rock. What Petro had found, I soon discovered, was nothing near to being a clear mountain spring. It was a trickle of yellow-brown liquid seeping down among the little crags of the hillside.

“That doesn’t even look like water.” I said.

“It’s not clean, I’ll admit that. But would you rather drink now, or wait until you’re really thirsty and wish you had.”

He laid a comforting hand on my forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. Still screwing up my face in mingled disgust and uncertainty, I looked on as my young friend bent down to lap at the murky stream. When he turned his face back towards me, he flashed me a bright, toothy smile which was betrayed by the queasy look in his eyes.

“Go on, it’s not that bad.”

The sun was bearing down on us in full force out on the exposed cliff, high above the red-tiled roofs of the city, so that the rock shone a harsh silver-grey, almost white. My throat was so parched that my voice croaked and my tongue had begun sting every time saliva hit its dried out surface.

I drank hastily until my belly was full, not wanting to waste an opportunity which might not come again. The water tasted scummy, like it had been used to wash out cooking pots or drained from a private bath. But it was wet and served to distract me from the throbbing pain in my head, arms, legs and every other part of my body.

“Jupiter wept, look at that.” Petro gasped.

He was staring out over the rooftops and across the street down which we had run. I followed his gaze and saw that another hill rose on its other side. Nestled in the valley between the two was a great open space, long and thin with tiered wooden stands to seat thousands rising around its edges.

“What is it?” I asked. “Do people live there? What’s it for?”

“I’ve heard of this.” Petro whispered, too amazed to speak in full tones. “My old master spoke about going to see it once. It’s the Circus Maximus, the largest racing course in the world. Or so they say.”

“Do you think there’s a bigger one out there?”

Petro dragged his eyes away from the structure in the distance and turned to look at me. There was a light sparkling in his eyes, something bright and wild which fitted well with the mottled black and red bruises marring his face.

“Who knows? It’s a big world out there, full of adventures for a freedman like me to enjoy.”

“I’ve seen enough of the world; I’m ready to settle down.”

His laugh was melodious and ringing, like a cowbell jangling in the distance. We began to scuttle back down to the street, his shoulders jouncing with mirth and threatening to shake him loose from his handholds.

“You’re going to settle down here, find a wife and herd your sheep?” He called back to me. “We’re in Rome, Marcus. Come on, you have to have at least one adventure. You know what they say.” Another dazzling laugh escaped his mouth and Petro hung down from the ledge, letting his body fall the last few feet. “When in Rome…”

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Wilson’s War #11b

Part B

(Read part A here)

“Good morning, Will.” Mr Butler called from the front gate.

He was leaning against the gatepost and looking at him over the top of his spectacles. In his hands an opened letter flapped in the breeze. It was not unusual for Mr Butler to wait at the gate to greet his workers, although Wilson had heard from the other workers that he only did it to see who arrived late.

He decided to stop and see if his employer wished to talk, if only to be away from wood pulp and rags for a few more minutes.

“Good morning, Mr Butler. How are you today?”

“I’m concerned, Will.”

“Am I late, Mr Butler?”

“No, I’m not concerned about you.” Mr Butler realised what he had said and coughed. “Sorry, that’s not what I meant. Are you well?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Why are you concerned, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“This,” He waved the letter towards Wilson, “came from the War Office this morning. It says that I’m to ship out no paper today and wait for officers to arrive at the opening of business.”

“Are we at war, Mr Butler? And what’s a war got to do with paper?”

“You’re asking the wrong man, Will.” He shook his head, and then pointed down the path. “Look there. That must be them.”

A dark shape was tearing its way towards them, throwing off clouds of black smoke. The wood pigeons burst out of the trees and flapped away to the south. As the object drew nearer, Wilson saw that it was a sort of carriage.

It had a pair of large wheels set behind two smaller ones, a high cushioned sear and some form of steering mechanism standing up in its middle. A pair of men in dark green trousers and starched shirts of the same colour sat with straight backs in the rear of the cab.

One of them held the steering handle and applied pressure to a small pedal with his foot. The thundering motorised carriage lurched to a stop beside Wilson and his employer.

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Wilson’s War #11


Part A

Wednesday 5th August 1914; Oxford, England

The wide, rectangular superstructure of the Butler Mill loomed ahead of Wilson as he ambled down the wide country lane on the outskirts of Oxford. Wood pigeons cooed to each other in the trees to his right and a hare darted across his path, leaping into one of the thick hedges which bordered the track.

These sights and sounds of nature conjured romantic images in Wilson’s mind. His gaze lifted and took in the high, tapering chimney which rose to three times the mill’s height. He remember the first time he had seen the soot-blackened walls of the building with the great smokestack rising above it and marvelled at the incredible feats which his fellow men could accomplish.

After five months of hard graft dragging sacks of wood pulp and freshly washed rags across the factory floor, Wilson found his pace slowing each day on his way to work as he caught sight of the ominous building. The boredom had slowly numbed his senses, which was a dangerous state to live in.

After about two months at the mill, Wilson had seen one of the machine operators lose a hand to the presser. This was a giant contraption which crushed the pulp between two heavy, flat metal weights. The operator had spent almost every day for five years of his life working at that machine, to the extent where it felt uncomfortable for Wilson to see the one without the other.

All it had taken was one small mistake in the calibration, off by a fraction of an inch, for the jaws of the iron giant to close on the operator’s wrist. It was an easy to mistake to notice but, after looking at the same piece of equipment for so long, the man had drifted into a routine. He boasted that he could work in his sleep. Wilson thought that it was easier to spot an error when a man had his eyes open and his mind on the task at hand.

Part B

Wilson’s War #10


As she tiptoed past the proud and smug-faced geese, the Baroness caught Annie by the arm and whispered to her, the older woman’s words sending a chill down her spine.

“I will speak with you in a moment, child.” She said.

Annie walked up the cold staircase as slowly as she dared. She knew that the Baroness would be waiting for her when she came downstairs and dreaded what the great widow would say to her.

The vice-like grip of anxiety grew tighter around her chest as she desperately tried to remember what she might have done wrong and how she could make amends by the time she returned with the cigar box. For all that she racked her mind for the solution; however, no answers came to her.

She eventually reached the dim, empty study and began drawing the blinds down over the solitary window. Above the trees to the east, a huge mass of dark clouds was gathering beneath a starless jet black sky, ready to descend on the quiet fields and lonely cottages of rural western Oxfordshire.

Turning away from the window, she saw the cigar box resting on the corner of His Lordship’s writing desk. It was crafted from Spanish cedar, apparently the best wood for storing tobacco, and varnished to a smooth finished so that light reflected on its surface even in the gloomy study. Curious, Annie gently lifted the wood, plucked out one of the fat, leafy sausages within and held it gingerly under her nose.

“What do you think?”

Annie spun on her heels and backed into the desk with fright. A jolt of pain ran down the back of her thighs. The Baroness stood in the open doorway, silhouetted by the light in the entranceway below. She seemed tall, angular and sinister, more like a vulture than the goose that Annie had pictured her as before.

With her haughty face cast in shadow, Annie could not see the smile which was playing on the older woman’s lips. She had no sense of how comical she looked with her mouth hanging open in fear, her eyebrows raised and a plump cigar thrust over her upper lip like a carefully groomed moustache.

“Pardon me, Your Ladyship.” Annie said, stuttering the first syllables of each word.

“I refuse to pardon you because you haven’t done anything wrong. Now, tell the truth, how does it smell?”

She inhaled the scent of the cigar and wrinkled her nose in surprise. Annie had lived in the countryside for all of her life and the smell was one which she was familiar with. Her eyes met those of the baroness and she decided that it was better to tell the truth than to be caught out in a lie.

“It smells like a cowpat, Your Ladyship.”

“I agree. Have you ever smoked, girl?

“I never have, Your Ladyship.”

“It’s better to try things once and be done with them than to go through life not knowing.”

With these confusing words, the Baroness drew a small tube of paper from somewhere beneath her shawl and held it out to Annie. Taking the odd little stick, she saw that it was filled with chips of tobacco.

Growing tired of watching her stare at the cigarette, the Baroness took it from her hand and stuck it into Annie’s mouth. A box of matches then emerged from the same hiding place, one was struck and the old lady applied it to the end of the paper.

“There you are. Tell me what sort of face old Charlie makes when you take in the cigars. Now, what was it that I wanted to talk to you about? Yes, I remember. I’ve decided that this house, with its male influences and disgraceful warmongering guests, is no place for a young lady. How old are you now?”

“Eleven years.” Annie mumbled, sending out small puffs of blue-grey smoke with each word. She was unsure of what to do with it except to keep it in her mouth.

“And where are your parents?” The Baroness asked.

“They died in a fire.” Five more tiny clouds of smoke rose towards the ceiling.

“Then you shall come with me to New York. I have need of a good, English servant to look after me in my old age. Those American girls are so very insolent, always talking about forming unions and Lord knows what else.”

Annie nodded her head and flicked a loose strand of dark hair away from the tip of the cigarette before it caught alight. She did not know where New York was, except that it was somewhere in America.

It would make sense for it to be somewhere in Yorkshire and, although that was quite far away, she was excited by the prospect of living somewhere other than the manor house for a while. A sudden thought came to her and brought a frown to her pale face.

“Your Ladyship, what about Cookie? Will she be alright staying here with all the-” She tried to remember how the Baroness had phrased it. “Will Cookie be alright with all the male influences warmongering things?”

“Child, I’d put good money on Cookie against any of those old walruses downstairs. Bare-knuckled or otherwise, she’d break them in a minute.”

Annie understood that to mean that Cookie would survive alone in the house with Mr O’Riley, Sir Charles and whatever guests came to dine. As she excused herself and began heading down the staircase with the cigarette box, her mind wondered at the change which had come over the Baroness since the gentlemen left the table.

While they ate she had been every inch the dignified English aristocrat, but in the study there had been an unusual twang to her voice and a straightforwardness of speech which took Annie by surprise. The effect was not that it grated on her ears as such, in fact it put her at ease, but it was nothing like the Yorkshire accents that she had heard in the past.

Every face in the musty room turned with a good-humoured smile towards the girl who shuffled around the billiard table offering the box of cigars to guests, sending up puffs of blue smoke. Annie felt like a small, dainty steam locomotive and took no notice as the jackals in black dinner jackets snarled to each other about alliances, mass mobilisations and the growing threat in Europe.

Later in her life, Annie would wish that she had taken the men’s lit cigars and set their coat tails alight. That might have taught them how foolish they were for speaking so carelessly about the events which came to rip all of their worlds apart.

But in that moment, she lived in a child’s universe where wars were things which happened in faraway places, and the soldier was a thing spoken of by old men in armchairs when they wished to give a lecture on gallantry and the greatness of the Empire.


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Wilson’s War #9

Saturday 1st August 1914; Oxfordshire, England

Annie shuffled her feet against the bright red carpet, her plimsolls making a soft rustling sound. Her thin arms were beginning to ache from holding the silver tray, even though it was empty. It seemed like hours had passed since Cookie sent her into the dining room to wait on His Lordship’s guests.

Looking at the tray, she was reminded of playing Master of the Manor with Wilson. The memory of her friend brought a lump into her throat and her eyes began to sting. She stared with loathing at the meaty hands of the master, the same hands that had knocked Wilson to the floor five months past.

She forced herself to focus on the room rather than dwell on unhappy memories. Cookie always said that sad thoughts never brought a smile. Around the long oak dining table were ten chairs, each filled with one of His Lordship’s guests.

Sir Charles sat at the head of the table, a glass of wine in one hand and his fork in the other. Annie watched as a steaming mass of roast lamb, potatoes and onions steeped in gravy was manoeuvred onto the fork and shovelled into the man’s gaping mouth. She shivered in disgust and noticed that she was not alone in doing so.

The host’s mother, the fourth Baroness of Trapton was watching her son eat with her lips twisted into a sneer of revulsion. Opposite her sat Sir Albert, the widower. Those three were the only ones present without a partner. On Sir Albert’s side of the table were four others of what Sir Charles referred to as his ‘war friends’.

The truth was that none of them had been in the military. The war to which this term referred was their time as junior barristers at the Inns of Court. To the Baroness’ right four tall, thin women perched on the edge of their seats, tittering at every joke their husbands made and looking to Annie like a flock of ugly geese.

“Now, gentlemen, I trust that you’ve all heard the news from Europe?” A pompous-looking man in an overly-tight dinner jacket asked.

There was a chorus of clearing of throats and deep hums of approval from the side of the table closest to Annie. She sighed inaudibly and braced herself to hear a conversation in which she had no interest at all. Sir Charles’ mouth was eagerly mashing food into a soft pulp, so great was his desire to weigh in on this new topic.

“Perhaps,” the Baroness said, her shrill voice cutting across the clamour and leaving the dining room in expectant silence, “this is a conversation which would be better had by the gentlemen after they have retired to the billiard room. I cannot speak for the esteemed ladies beside me, but I have no interest in hearing your praises for that terrible blight that is war.”

The geese, who only moments before had been encouraging their husbands in the hopes of hearing the latest news from the continent, now followed the will of the elderly Baroness and voiced their disapproval at the men opposite them.

Annie thought that their husbands had in turn taken the characters of jackals. They looked with hungry eyes at the Baroness, sensing a weakness on which they could prey. It was the first time that Annie had ever heard war being spoken of as anything less than a glorious pursuit.

“Mother, are you suggesting that war is a bad thing?” The leader of the pack asked, dumbing down his speech for the woman who had taught him to talk.

The feathers of the great goose ruffled and Annie watched her pull back her head, ready to snap at the insolent jackal with her sharp beak. She was enjoying this new conversation more than she had thought she would.

“That is exactly what I am saying. I’ve been living in the United States for twelve years now with your aunt and her kind husband. In their company I have been introduced to veterans of the American Civil War who fought for both the North and the South. Do you know what all of those gentlemen had in common, Charles?”

“I can’t imagine they had much to agree upon.” He replied.

“You would be surprised. Each of them agreed that dysentery is a sure remedy for excitement, that a lead ball to the leg is a certain antidote to gallantry, and that they would trade all the rash boasts of their youth to be reunited with their fallen comrades.”

“Well,” Alfred bellowed, sending spittle flying across the tablecloth, “it’s a shame our Russian allies aren’t fighting the Americans. It sounds like they lack the stomach for a fight. I for one am champing at the bit to see the forces of the British Empire wade in against the Germans and their Triple Alliance.”

The Baroness’ long, thin neck seemed to elongate even further as she pushed her chair back from the table and rose to her feet, her pointed chin thrust toward the chandelier.

Every man at the table immediate scrambled to their feet, hastily folding their napkins beside their plates. It amazed Annie how quick they were to follow common courtesies even in the midst of a vicious argument.

“If the gentlemen present refuse so strongly to carry their conversation into the dining room, I shall retire myself.” She said, mustering enough dignity in her tone to shame each man into blushing. Five pairs of eyes turned down towards the table and not one of the men met her gaze.

“I think this war is none of our business. Let those Russians and Prussians fight amongst themselves, what’s it got to do with us?” One of the younger, scrawnier geese croaked from the middle of the table as she threw back a glass of blood red wine.

Annie’s mouth hung open. She had never seen a lady so affected by drink before in her life. The woman swayed slightly to either side and smirked from the corner of one mouth. Her husband’s glare looked furious enough to bore a hole through the woman’s forehead, but she either did not see it or did not care. Every face around the dining room except for the Baroness’ took on a deep red hue to match the curtains.

“Try some more of that lamb, dear. It’s quite splendid.” The Duchess said.

“Alice, please fetch the cigar box from my study and bring it next door.” His Lordship said, apparently still inspecting the edge of the tablecloth. “Comrades, I think we should retire to the billiard room.”

The jackals filed out through the doorway with the tails of their dinner jackets trailing down behind them. Annie watched the glum procession for a moment without moving before realising that Sir Charles had been addressing her.

It seemed that her name was Alice that day. The week before it had been Hannah and on her tenth birthday she had been known as Florence. She did not know how His Lordship had landed upon the name Florence, as it was not even close in sound or spelling to Annie.

PART 10:

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Wilson’s War #8

If Elizabeth was getting an earful, Jane thought, that was her own fault. She had never asked her to talk back to Mrs Butler or to drop the vase in the first place. Wilson’s wide-eyed, apprehensive face turned towards her.

“Oh, it isn’t about you, Will, don’t worry. Mr Butler said that you can start at the mill tomorrow. He’ll pay you six shillings a week, that’s alright isn’t it? I told you he was a good sort.”

“What would I do at the mill?” He asked.

“Mr Butler is brilliant. He makes the finest quality paper, better than anywhere else in Europe, and sells it in Prussia. They have a contract with him and he’s invested his profits in a lot of publishing houses over there that use his paper. You’d be learning to operate the machinery I suppose.”

“Where is Prussia, Jane?”

“Well, it’s near to France I think, one of the German states. I should like to go to France someday, wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it. Jane, I haven’t got anywhere to stay tonight. Constable Spencer let me sleep in the police station last night and drove me here this morning, he said he felt bad for arresting my father though I don’t blame him for it, but now I’ve nowhere to go.”

“Do you have enough money for a room?” Jane asked.

“I’ve got three shillings.”

“Then you should save it. You can sleep down here in the kitchen but you can’t let the Butlers know you’re here.”

Jane felt a thrill of excitement at the thought of keeping such a big secret from her employers. With a sense of adventure building up inside her, she waited to hear what Elizabeth would have to say about it. It did not cross her mind that she might have been experiencing one of her more extreme good moods until later that night when she lay terrified under her blanket, praying that nobody would come downstairs and discover Wilson in the kitchen.


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Find my historical novel here on Amazon Kindle.