The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Silver Branch Another pre-1950 historical novel with a slow set-up.

Two descendants of Marcus from “The Eagle of the Ninth” meet in Britain. Justin is a surgeon, Flavius is a Centurion captain. They meet the emperor, or one of the current Emperors, there is one in Britain and two in Rome. They discover an assassination plot and get sent north to Hadrian’s Wall. Maybe because Emperors have no gratitude?
Or just maybe because the Emperor is bloody suspicious and knows perfectly well that his good friend and advisor wants to kill him and wear the royal purple toga, and killing two young men who have accused him is easier than keeping them alive.

Assassination should be considered a natural death, for Caesars. After the assassination there is a war, and the two men find a smuggling ring – sending loyal Romans back to Rome with information and requests for money.

Loyalty is a theme all around, with outcasts from the Picts and the Painted People making peace with the enemy but staying loyal to their people. Hello, mirror of two Romans cast aside by their alleged leader but staying loyal to Rome.

The titular Silver Branch is actually made of the metal silver, with silver bells shaped like apples, that makes lovely rippling music. The branch and the person who carry it have an interesting place in the plot, hardly there until suddenly they save the day.

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