Friday, 18 November 2016

Pax Romana?

It was a fresh spring morning when one of the sentries in the fort first noticed something glinting on a far hill to the north.
            “Cave! Timere!”
            “Barbarians!” He pointed frantically towards the northern horizon where over the whole hillside, several hillsides, arms and armour were glittering in the early sunlight. The centurion dashed towards the principia, shouting. NCOs emerged from their quarters and began shouting. The praefectus was shouting from the front doorway of his villa whilst he struggled into a cuirass that he had obviously outgrown.
            “Where’s my gladius? Someone get me a gladius.”
            The caligati, the army’s rankers or grunts, stumbled onto the parade ground in their underwear. They did not shout, but muttered amongst themselves.
            “Stand to!” The vexillarius planted the regiment’s banner firmly alongside his commander. A cornicen began to blast out the strident Call to Arms, but there was an impossibly short space of time between the alarm being raised and the arrival of a crazed hoard of Picts and Geordies at the settlement, wielding an assortment of dangerously sharp-edged implements. It was a hectic time, a panic stricken scrabbling for war gear time, too short a time for the completion of defensive preparations. Battlements were manned by half ready troops, torsion ballistas loaded with iron tipped bolts, Palmyran archers crowded onto the roof of the gatehouse. Fire-buckets were filled and someone was dispatched to find Marcus, the nearest thing they had to a field surgeon. The doomed lad was pierced through with a broad, leaf-bladed Pictish spear before he had crossed the street, and was trampled under foot as a tightly packed mass of barbarians crashed, screaming into the vicus, firing the buildings and slaughtering all before them.
            Terrifying, fair skinned, naked warriors, unstoppable in their blood-rage, led the assault on the fort. Ornate bronze helmets and gold torques flashed fire. Long iron swords slashed against soldiers’ scuta, gaudy lozenge shields, like outsize knuckle-dusters, battered into soft tissue. Roman blood spattered onto blue painted, barbarian flesh, and soaked darkly into their woollen plaid short capes and long trousers, stained the ground crimson. Individual screams melded into a homogeneous roar of pain, and greedy ravens gathered in expectation of the carnage.
            By the time a relief column of the Cohors I Tungrorum arrived from Vercovicium fort the barbarians had moved on. The would-be rescuers found a butchers’ shambles. Large areas of charred earth and rubble stretched back from the roadsides. No identifiable building stood above ground except the burned out shell of the hostelry and the wreck of the principia. Tatters of clothing and flesh hung in the gorse, picked over by ominous black birds. Smoke rose still, from the smouldering peat.
            First Tungrorum also had a medicus ordinaries, with the unlikely name of Anicius Ingenuus. He had accompanied the auxiliary column in the hopes of tending to the wounded, but there was no work for him. Nothing lived. If there had been survivors these too had long since dispersed.

Friday, 4 November 2016


Marcus&Regina S

Over time the community around the staging post grew, and despite changes to the garrison Marcus stayed on. He even managed to extend the range of his medical skills. He could not admit it to any of the Romanised military units, but he had picked up a few tips from the local, somewhat eccentric, wise woman and had a notebook full of plant drawings and descriptions of their efficacy.
Soon after yet another change of personnel at the fort Marcus entered the local alehouse. He preferred the tepid malt brew drunk by the sturdy natives to the fort’s cheap wine that had joggled all its way up the Great North Street from Portus Dubris, especially when the ale was fortified with a dram of the amber distillation that the locals knew as chwisgi.
     “A pot of your finest brew, fair lass, and a chwisgi chaser if you would be so kind. The barmaid was new to him, slender with wild hair as had black as a raven’s chuff and haunting, sad eyes.
     “Owt to eat with that, your ‘ighness? We got toast and dripping on the go.”
She was not local, drawing out her A’s and dropping her H’s.
     “I can’t think of anything finer. Two thick slices please. You’re not from round here? I’m Marcus.”
She turned and shouted through to the back:
     “Two mucky fats. Door stops, for this ‘ere gent.
     “Nah, I come up with the army, part of some legion or other, from Londinium. Names Queenie.” She wiped a hand on the front of her skirts and held it out, “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.” She glanced down at his army issue tunic worn over woollen tartan trousers, “You that Medicus I been ‘earing about? Yer not really a Briton?”
     Yes he was Marcus the Medicus and no he was not a native Briton. Though he had been in the army so long he could barely remember his homeland.
     “Long story. I’ll be over by the fire when that toast is done.”
As the seasons passed and the monotonous routines of Army life behind the walls of the castra followed one on another, as ever plodding, unchanging through a mundane eternity an intimate relationship developed between Marcus and his barmaid in the cosy native alehouse. He moved his surgery into the Snug and from the pub’s doorway he could see straight through the gateway of the fort where soldiers on Sick Call would line up at six o’clock each morning and march across the street for his attention and a nifty pint. The couple set up home, first in a spare room in the attic, eventually in the landlord’s apartments. One winter the proprietor had contracted a terminal case of the ague and Queenie inherited the business. Now officially married they had a child, a girl, Priscilla Alastríona, indistinguishable from the other village urchins, except that her Latin was somewhat more fluent. Life, for Marcus and Queenie was proceeding along a surprisingly satisfactory path.