Frontier Scout
First edition cover




Short story



Historical era



Charles Keeping


Stories from Scottish History, BBC Scotland


The Capricorn Bracelet

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"Frontier Scout" is the fifth of six stories in the 1973 collection The Capricorn Bracelet, originally written as episodes of the BBC Scotland radio programme Stories from Scottish History. The book is illustrated by Charles Keeping.


The fifth Lucius Calpurnius joins the Frontier Wolves, Roman scouts and irregulars of mixed Roman and Tribesman heritage like himself, who wear wolfskin cloaks. Lucius's posting is the fort of Credigone in lowland Caledonia on the Bodotria Estuary, and in his second autumn there he is still so new that he has not yet hunted his wolf.

On patrol near the northern limit of their range on the southern bank of the river Tava, a Little Dark One named Curithir approaches Decurian Rufus to tell him that he has killed a Saxon envoy en route to the High King of the Picts, the unfriendly tribe on the north side of the river. They follow Curithir up the Tavaside to inspect the body, then the two Sea Wolf ships moored in an inlet of the Tava. They reckon they have no more than a day or two before the Sea Wolves question their herald's radio silence. Rufus despatches Lucius to alert the rest of the Frontier Wolf patrol and then the fleet at the Inveresk naval fort on the southern shore of the Bodotria Estuary, seventy miles away.

Lucius rides through a blustering night to the Bodotria ferry, then Inveresk. The Fort Commander sends the warships Thetis, Thunderer, and Orion to the Firth of Tava, with Lucius aboard Thunderer to guide the Trierarch to the Sea Wolves' anchorage. He is miserably seasick. In the early morning, the Roman fleet falls upon the Sea Wolves, ramming the ships and driving their crews between the marines and the Frontier Wolves. Lucius kills a huge chieftain in a wolfskin cloak, which he claims for his own.

This is the first incursion of the Sea Wolves in the North.


Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. "Frontier Scout" takes place in autumn of 280 CE, during the early Saxon incursions, two hundred years after Agricola's Caledonian campaigns.

  • Day 1: Curithir shows the Frontier Wolves the Saxon herald
  • That night: Lucius rides to Inveresk
  • Day 2: the Patrol Fleet fights the Sea Wolves


  • Lucius Calpurnius, fifth of his name, a young Frontier Wolf
  • Decurian Rufus, Lucius's boss, served in the South against the Saxons
  • Curithir, one of the Little Dark People
  • Bericus, second in command of Rufus's patrol
  • The Saxon envoy, dead in a bramble bush
  • Bruide the High King of the Picts
  • Phaedrus, Lucius's horse
  • The ferryman, disobliging
  • The Optio of the Inveresk Gate Guard
  • The Duty Centurion
  • The Fort Commander
  • Centurion Galba, tall
  • A chatty marine
  • The Trierarch of Thunderer
  • A Saxon chief in a wolf-skin cloak
  • Thetis, Thunderer, and Orion, ready for sea
  • Frontier Scouts, Roman army scouts, Frontier Wolves
  • The Votadini, a friendly lowland tribe
  • The Picts, unfriendly highland tribes, the Painted People
  • The Little Dark People, friendly aboriginal Britons
  • The Saxons, raiders from the continent, Sea Wolves


  • Credigone, easternmost fort on the Northern Wall, Lucius's post, now abandoned
  • The Northern Wall, line of forts running from the Bodotria Estuary (Firth of Forth) to the Cluta (Firth of Clyde)
  • Votadini territory, at this period from the eastern coast up to the highland glens
  • The Tava, the river Tay, northern limit of the Credigone patrols, a navigable river
  • Pictish territory, highland glens opening over the Tay levels and northward
    • The High King's Hall, north of the river
  • The Saxon Shore, the southeastern coast of Britain, under pressure
  • Inveresk, Roman naval station on the Bodotria Estuary
  • Bodotria Estuary, the Firth of Forth
  • The Bodotria crossing, a Roman army ferry and posting station
  • The Cramond fort, west side of Edinburgh
  • The Ness, headland dividing the Firths of Forth and Tava