The shepherds were already refreshing their flocks at the little river when the sun rose. It was a fresh winter morning and they stood quietly looking down in a huddle, with their shoulders pulled up to their ears, rubbing their arms and hands vigorously. There was an ineffable coldness on the backs of their necks they couldn’t shake.
In the silence, a few weak notes rang out. Not a bird, but something else. Music possibly, from a pipe? The sheep stopped drinking and the shepherds raised their eyes and turned. They didn’t speak but their gazes shot searchingly back and forth between their sheep and the shadow of the woods where they knew the soldiers were camped. For a full minute they stood motionless, straining to listen for another sound. Even the animals seemed to be listening, with their heads erect and their ears pointed open wide.
The peace was abruptly broken by the hard thwack of wings beating against air as scores of black birds took to flight from the trees and landed on the bridge nearby the shepherds. A cold wind began to blow and the birds alit again, flying south.
From the woods came running a young man, handsome, and dressed in fine clothes. In his hand was a trumpet, and when he reached the bridge he stopped and sounded a piercing blast. Across the bridge he then bolted and seemed to disappear into a mist before he even reached the other side.
A second man then emerged on horseback and he slowly followed the path to the river-crossing. He wept as he rode and his shirt was rent down the middle. Forlornly, he shouted to his legion, “The die is cast!”
It was January 10th, 49 BC, and Julius Caesar was about to cross the Rubicon.