"The Fugitives" is a short story published in the 1964 anthology Miscellany One, illustrated by Charles Keeping. The disabled son of an officer hides a deserter and finally acknowledges out loud that he will not grow up to be a soldier.
Lucian sits in the garden of his father the Pilus Prior on a spring evening, shaping a lump of clay. He cannot walk after a childhood illness, but he has lately discovered that he can breathe life into clay.
A young, hunted man in the uniform of an auxiliary crashes through the garden hedge. Lucian recognises him for a deserter, and the young man threatens to kill him if he alerts the search party who are looking for him. Unable to flee but unafraid, Lucian faces him down, and the deserter tells him he is carrying secret dispatches from Caesar which even the camp's command can't know about, for the safety of the province. Lucian bids him hide under the bench and blanket he's sitting on.
The search party discovers the hole in the Pilus Prior's hedge, and the young centurion leading it questions Lucian about the deserter. Lucian pretends calm ignorance and says that the hole was made by their dog Syrius. The centurion tells him that the deserter twisted his ankle climbing over the bathhouse wall and is now lame, before trailing off awkwardly, to his and Lucian's mutual embarrassment. Determined however to keep him talking and not searching, Lucian asks why the man deserted. The centurion observes sympathetically that there are always a few desertions in the spring, but that "there's not much life for a deserter; you can't spend all your life in running away." He tells Lucian to keep well so he can join the legion and turns to go.
It is then that Syrius escapes into the garden. Dreading the hound's discovery of a hunted stranger under the bench, Lucian makes a sacrifice to the gods. He tells the centurion lightly that he knows perfectly well there's no place in the legion for a man who can't walk.
Marcipor the steward drags Syrius back, and Syrius goes willingly at the sound of the Pilus Prior's step as he returns home. When the garden has emptied, Lucian releases the deserter. The deserter agrees with the centurion that Lucian is the legion's loss, but tells him that the Pilus Prior, no matter how good a soldier, could not give life to clay as Lucian can.
Hiding until dark, the deserter reflects on his two years of servitude in the auxiliaries, his impulsive escape, the centurion's words, and Lucian. He reflects that if he returns voluntarily, he will probably not be killed; that the duty will be the same as before, but the start might be fresh. He turns towards the fort, feeling "in an odd way as though he had company on his road."
The story takes place in the Roman Empire, at a legion headquarters of a province, but no more specific historic or geographic details are mentioned.
- 5 years earlier: Childhood epidemic kills many and cripples Lucian. Lucian is 7.
- 2 years earlier: The deserter joins the Auxiliaries.
- Present: Spring, evening. Lucian is 12.
- Years later: Lucian realises he never believed the story of Caesar's dispatches.
- 23 years later: The deserter's term in the Auxiliaries would end.
- Lucian, 12-year-old son of Lucius Lycinius; an artist; legs paralysed; proud; cool under pressure.
- Lucius Lycinius, Pilus Prior of the legion, "the Old Man", a formidable soldier.
- Syrius, their dog, a huge hound in a bronze-studded collar.
- Marcipor, the Pilus Prior's body-slave, a big grey-haired man, "more blighting than the Pilus Prior when he chose." Friends with a potter.
- The deserter, a very young Auxiliary, wry and reckless, the grandson of a chief; grey-eyed.
- The old slave gardener next door
- The centurion, a young, "cheerful-looking, freckle-faced individual".
- Rufrius, one of his legionaries
- The deserter's grandfather, chieftain of a valley, very anxious that he should have joined the draught
- The Pilus Prior's garden. A terrace cut off from view of the house by elder and rose bushes, with a stone bench and a beech hedge dividing it from its neighbour, and a wall at the bottom, overlooking open hazel-scrubland running down to the river woods. The last house in the cantonment, within earshot of the fort.
- The deserter's home valley, of which his grandfather is chieftain.
- Miscellany One, Edward Blishen (ed.) Oxford University Press, 1964.