A full moon lights the red sails of three Acean cogs on the Barrier Sea. The vessels beat against an opposing wind. They are 34 days from New Acea, tacking parallel courses through unfamiliar waters. The ships are bound for a rocky shoreline on the far continent of Ungroth.
Each cog carries thirty legionaries, relief forces for the Acean outposts in that dark land. Most have only two years of training. These un-blooded troops will see their first action guarding wagon trains of ore and lumber between labor camps in the continent’s interior and the fortresses on the coast.
Twenty-four new legionaries stand on the deck of the lead ship, the Gallant Drunkard. They are preparing to undergo shield painting. It is one of the Empire’s most important civilis ritae. After two years of training as recruits, the new soldiers will paint their armor and shields with the colors of the Legion. Pots of red and black dye stand ready for use in the trainees’ formal induction.
A single legionary stands on the forecastle above the others. He is Gregus Pavo Vetus. Gregus is a veteran soldier and the decanus of the only experienced contubernium aboard. His breastplate bears the marks of over a dozen campaigns. The light of the full moon and a nearby brazier make the marks dance as Gregus steps to the rail. In a loud voice, he addresses the new-made soldiers below him.
Legionaries! Your training is at its end. Your contuberniums are assigned. Your weapons are sharp. Your armor is hardened. Tonight, it will be painted. Tonight, you will become soldiers of Acea!
Gregus makes a brief pause to let the cheering die down.
On the morrow, we will beach at Griffon’s Hold. There, we will post to relieve the standing garrison. The ships behind us will continue down the coast to relieve Night Home and Victory Bay. These ports are the portals through which the resources of this wild land pass on their way to New Acea and to High Acea itself. Our task is to protect the servitori who take the lumber and work the mines.
As you know, there has been some trouble in the interior. Three years ago, the Eleventh Cohort landed on the northern face of Ungroth to establish new ports there. Nine hundred legionaries went ashore to tame the thick forest and take its ebony and ironwood for shipment. Two years ago, their reports and shipments stopped. The entire cohort is now assumed lost.
So, to those of you who think this assignment is too tame, you are mistaken. The outposts we will garrison are hundreds of leagues from where the Eleventh was lost but we will be soldiering in the same lands. The dangers are well reported. Murderous animals, feral tribesmen, and worse creatures hide in the deep woods, waiting to test our vigilance. Your first blooding is sure to see action.
But you will come to know all of this personally in good time. Tonight, the civil rite of shield painting awaits us.
With that, Gregus gives a signal and the rite begins.