Talk:The Iron Hand of Mars
|WikiProject Novels / Crime||(Rated Start-class, Mid-importance)|
Following the events of Venus in Copper, the Imperial authorities are seeking Falco out for an assignment in Germany (which given the events of his last mission abroad, Falco is slow to accept). Meanwhile, Falco is not pleased with Titus Caesar attempting to hit on Helena. When Helena gets an invitation to a private dinner with Titus, but insists that Falco stay by her side, he instead decides to leave Rome that same day to see a potential client in Veii. When he returns back, however, Helena has disappeared and Falco confronts Titus, who also reveals that he himself has not seen Helena. Romantically depressed, Falco goes over to the Palatine to be personally briefed by the emperor Vespasian on his latest assignment — broker peace between Rome and the Celtic tribes of Germany (whose leaders are thought to be Veleda, a priestess and Julius Civilis, a local strongman), locate a missing military officer named Lupercus, and deliver a new standard in the form of a two-foot long human hand, cast in iron, to the 14th Gemina — the last actually being a pretext for Falco to investigate them, given that the 14th Gemina is considered dubious in loyalty by Vespasian. Much to Falco's annoyasnce, he is also to escort an ex-slave named Xanthus into Germany as well, whose specialty is hairdressing.
Falco's trip is marked by a number of misadventures - poor food and even poorer wine, unscrupulous souvenir sellers and cramped conditions, as well as a murder - at Lugdunum, Falco and Xanthus bump into two travellers who end up in a quarrel with a group of potters and are found seemingly waylaid and murdered in the countryside. Falco suspects that they had been deliberately stalked and killed. At the crimescene, Falco makes the acquaintance of a centurio named Helvetius, before heading further north. At Argentoratum, Falco tries to contact Helena's brother Justinus, a military tribune, but discovers that Justinus has already been transferred elsewhere, and so proceeds down the Rhenus further into Germany, where the relatively wealthy Xanthus is accosted by another souvenir seller named Dubnus. Going through Dubnus' wares, Falco discovers that he is selling old Roman artefacts which may have been loot from the ill-fated expedition of Varus, and asks Dubnus about Veleda, who tells him that she lives in a tower in the middle of the forest somewhere in the north.
Disembarking at Moguntiacum, Falco tries to contact the local military legate, Florius Gracilis, but discovers that like Lupercus, Gracilis has disappeared. Falco finally meets Justinus and upon discussing Gracilis further, he discovers that Gracilis has been absent without leave, and his whereabouts are unknown, and in addition to his official duties, begins tracking down Gracilis. Falco first meets Maena Priscilla, Gracilis' young wife, but things turn sour and Falco is driven out, but not before getting hints from Gracilis' accountant that he had issues with money. Falco tries again and locates the lover of Gracilis' slave Rusticus named Regina, but the conversation soon gets heated and Regina becomes antagonistic.
Next in line is Gracilis' Roman mistress, Julia Fortunata — who actually asks Falco to see her, because she too is looking for Gracilis. Out of leads, Falco finally tries to make enquiries with the camp prefect of the 14th Legion, but accidentally lets it slip that he was part of the infamous 2nd Augusta. Brusquely driven off and humiliated, he is warned by the camp prefect to cease asking around for Gracilis. While trying to go to Justinus' house, is ambushed by three apparently drunk soldiers, but is saved by Xanthus who kills one of the soldiers, and finally discovers that Justinus has another guest, and it's none other than Helena, who has also brought along his niece, Victorina's daughter named ... While going shopping to pass the time in Moguntiacum, Falco and Helena meet a German potter, Julius Mordanticus, whose uncle Bruccius has gone missing along with his cousin in Gaul. Falco immediately identifies Mordanticus' relatives as the men killed in Gaul, and tells Mordanticus to get in touch with the centurion Helvetius, while Helena discovers that there was strong business rivalry between the potters of Lugdunum and Moguntiacum over commercial contracts to supply high-quaility ceramics to the Roman army. Helena then buys a bowl from Julius Mordanticus for Falco to bring back as a gift for his mother in Rome.
Falco goes north in search of Civilis and Veleda, but is captured by the Bructii. He manages to meet Veleda and tries to convince her, but Veleda refuses to listen to him. Just as things begin to look bleak, however, Justinus rides in and speaks with Veleda in Celtic, offering himself up as a hostage in return for the safe passage of Falco and his team back to civilisation. Veleda soon agrees and asks Falco and Helvetius to use Cerialis' former flagship (now decrepit from neglect) to escape so as to throw off the tribesmen's suspicion - she cannot be seen to be actively aiding the Romans.