“Not lyrical, but accurate, Insubrecus. All these stories and reports of Romans, Belgae, Krauts, and whatnot have become a knot I do not have time to unravel, so I’m just going to slice it open!” Caesar announced. “Tomorrow at dawn, this army marches on the Aeduan capital. . .we march on Bibracte!”
With these words, Gaius Iulius Caesar sent his army on what most of his officers considered a suicide mission with the Helvetians and their German allies across their line of retreat and the army trapped against the impregnable walls of Bibracte, the fortress-capital of their treacherous Gallic allies, the Aedui.
"The Helvetian Affair" is the second book of the Gaius Marius Chronicle, the memoir of a retired Roman soldier, Gaius Marius Insubrecus, a legionary who fought with Caesar throughout his Gallic campaigns and the Roman civil wars.
"The Helvetian Affair" recounts Insubrecus’ coming of age as a Roman soldier in the legionary camps outside the city of Aquileia, and serving his patron, Caesar, as he conducts a lightening campaign to prevent the fierce and ruthless attempt by the Helvetii to conquer Celtic Gaul and threaten the Roman province.
The narrative recreates a colorful and culturally complex portrait of ancient northern Italy and the Rhone valley, as Romans, Celts and Germans struggle for supremacy in the hills and dark forests of western Gaul.
About the Author
Ray Gleason first book, "A Grunt Speaks: A Devil’s Dictionary of Vietnam Infantry Terms", uses the terminology of soldiers to reflect on his experience as rifleman and army ranger during three combat tours in Vietnam. Gleason became an advocate for the Vietnam-era generation in his novel, "The Violent Season. Gleason holds a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies and MA in English Literature from Northwestern University, and a BA in English and History from Hunter College. He teaches Medieval Literature at Northwestern and writing at Purdue.
Read an Excerpt
We rode for what seemed like hours. The young moon rose, dimly lighting our way. Soon, off to the north and east, we could see what seemed to be bonfires burning in the night.
Athauhnu halted our march.
“It’s worse now,” he told me. “Those are the settlements of my people. . .The Helvetii and those German pigs are burning everything.”
“Ask him how much farther!” Rubigo interrupted.
I translated for Athauhnu. He shrugged, “Not much farther. The south branch of the Rotonos is to our front. The bridge your Caisar wants is to the northwest. . .It is downstream from where the branches of the river join together and just below the bluff where the dun of my people sits.”
“It’s not much farther to the northwest,” I told Rubigo.
“All that jabber to say ‘not much farther’?” the decurio complained. “These bloody wogs love the sound of their own voices.”
I didn’t think it appropriate to point out to Rubigo that I was one of those “wogs.”
“Da!” I told Athauhnu. “Good! Let’s go!”
In less than an hour, we were on a hill overlooking the Rhodanus. Below us, we could make out the bridge spanning the river and the fires of the Roman engineers Caesar had sent out to strengthen it. On the other side of the Rhodanus, on a facing bluff, the torches set on the ramparts of the Dun of Lugus, the seat of the Sequani, were visible.
“We rest the horses,” Rubigo said. “Then, we get back to the army. The wog’s right. We can be on the banks of the river by tomorrow night.”
“Beth a wnaeth uh un coch uhn ei thweud?” Athauhnu asked. “What did the Red One say?”
“He said thanks,” I told Athauhnu.
“So many words to say thanks,” Athauhnu commented shaking his head. “These Romans wag their tongues like old women.”
We rode as hard as our tired horses could tolerate to get back to the army. The fires in the north and east seemed to have gone out, leading me to hope that the enemy had withdrawn its raiding parties back across the river.
Erratum. I was wrong.
We were no more than ten thousand passus back from the hilltop where we saw the bridge when we literally collided with another group of horsemen in the dark. A rider, no more than a pace or two to my left, grunted, “Hwa gange ðær?”
I didn’t understand what he said, but immediately the image of a blond giant guarding the blue doorway of a lupinarium in Mediolanum appeared in my mind.
“Germani!” I yelled drawing my gladius. “Germans!”
I pulled my horse’s head hard to the left into the German rider. He was slower to react than I was. I felt my gladius bite home; where, I wasn’t sure. The rider grunted and went down.
The rest of the fight was a mad free-for-all in the dark. I could sense, more than see, figures swirling around me; I heard the sounds of steel on steel, the grunts of the wounded. Then, there was silencesilence except for the sound of a woman weeping somewhere in the dark.
I heard Rubigo call, “Insubrecus! Ub’es tu?”
“Adsum!” I responded.
I felt him ride up next to me. “Thank the gods! The general would have my hide if those Krauts got to you.”
“I hear someone crying,” I said.
“Prisoners,” Rubigo explained. “Those Kraut mentulae were dragging their captives along with them. Your wog buddies are seeing to them. Tell them to hurry. We have to get back to the army.”
I dismounted and found Athauhnu. He was with a cluster of his men and the freed captives.
“Young women and a few young boys,” he spat. “They’re from a settlement near the south branch of the Rotonos. The German pigs burned everything. . .killed everyone else except these few. . .they have value as slaves. . .”
“The Red One wants to get back to the Romans,” I said. “How soon can you move?”
“He’s right,” Athauhnu agreed. “The faster the Caisar arrives with his warriors, the faster these pigs will flee from our lands. . .I will send two of my men to bring these captives to the Dun of Lugus. . .then we will go find your army.”