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|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
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Pro Contubernalibus Valete
A FAREWELL TO COMRADES
Ex eo proelio circiter hominum milia CXXX superfuerunt eaque tota nocte continenter ierunt nullam partem noctis itinere intermisso; in fines Lingonum die quarto pervenerunt, cum et propter vulnera militum et propter sepulturam occisorum nostri triduum morati eos sequi non potuissent.
"About a hundred thirty thousand Helvetians survived the battle. In the darkness of the entire night, they fled without stopping. By the fourth day, they had arrived in the territory of the Lingones, but our troops could not pursue them; we were held back for three days by our wounded and the funeral rites for our dead."
(from Gaius Marius Insubrecus' notebook of Caesar's journal)
After the fight with the Boii, Emlun brought me back "to feed the crows."
The nearest aid station was that of the Seventh Legion, where Madog's body still lay, but I didn't want to put myself at the mercy of the crow whose nose I had smashed, so we found the medical station of the Tenth Legion near the Roman right flank.
I didn't think I needed to see the medics, but after taking one look at me, Spina ordered me onto his examining table. While I sat there, he asked me a series of questions in his Aventine patois.
Spina asked, "How's yer head?"
"Feels like somebody's beating on it with a hammer," I replied.
"What's yer name?"
"What? You know who I am!"
"But do youse ... What's yer name?"
"Gaius Marius Insubrecus"
"Did ya lose consciousness?"
"Yes ... when I was hit."
"Do ya feel dizzy?"
"Only when I stand up."
"Do ya feel nauseous?"
"Yes, I threw up."
"Who's da commander of th'army?"
(Sigh) "Gaius Iulius Caesar, Imperator"
"Does da light hoit y'eyes?"
It took me a moment to figure out what he was saying. Finally, I replied, "Yes ... a little."
"Enough wit' da questions. I got ta'xamine youse."
Spina told me to close my eyes. I did and kept them closed for close to a hundred heartbeats. When he told me to open them, he was nose-to-nose with me and seemed to be looking straight into my eyes for something.
He told me to close my eyes again, and we repeated the drill.
Then, he said he had to examine my head. Before he started, he nodded, and two rather burly attendants, one on each side of me, took hold of my arms and shoulders.
"Dis might sting yas a bit," Spina said.
I would never have thought that an ex-gutter-rat from the Aventine had such a gift for ironia.
Spina began to probe my wounded forehead. It felt as if he were cauterizing my skull with white-hot irons. Initially, I squirmed and tried to escape. Spina kept muttering, "Hold still ... Hold still, almost done ... Hold still," while his two bully boys did their best to hold me in place.
Finally, he was done. "I got some good news for yas and some utter news ... Good news foist ... as far as I can tell wid all dat trauma, yer skull's intact."
I was blinking away the tears after Spina's poking. I asked him, "So, what's the other news?"
"Ya want dee utter news, huh?" he nodded. "Okay ... ya got what's called concussus."
"Concussus?" I questioned. "That makes no sense ... I wasn't shaken ... I was hit in the head by a horse's hoof! It's not serious, is it?"
Spina shrugged, "Doh know yet. Sometimes it's just a bad headache ... Sometimes it kills ya."
I stared at him blankly, lost somewhere between "bad headache" and "kills ya."
Spina continued, "We're gonna keep ya heah wheah I can keep an eye on yas for a while. If ya keep vomiting, ya headache gets woise, ya get really sleepy, ya can't talk straight, ya arms go numb, or ya pass out, it means ya got some blood leakin' in ya head. If dat happens, I hafta drill a little hole through yer skull to drain it. If dat don't fix it ... well ... donworryboutit. Yule be halfway down to da boatman and won't know a t'ing."
I translated "drill a little hole through yer skull," wondered about "donworryboutit," and nodded dumbly.
Spina continued, "And dis is real important! Don't fall asleep! If ya does, I'll think ya passed out, and when ya wake up, I'll be drillin' on ya head ... Got it?"
Again, only a nod.
"Hey, look!" Spina finished with his best approximation of a bedside manner, "Yer probably just gonna have a headache for a couple a days. So, forgedaboudit! Okay? Yule be up and around in no time."
Again, a nod, and I wondered about "forgedaboudit."
Spina turned to one of his crows: "Take dis officer to da recovery tent. Tell 'em he's to stay awake. If he goes unconscious, come get me. And, give him plenty a waddah ... no wine ... just waddah!"
As the attendant walked me to the recovery tent, Spina said again, "Donworryboutit!"
The crow helped me get settled in the recovery tent. I almost passed out as I tried to take off my belts and lorica. There wasn't much of a chance I'd fall asleep; my head hurt too much. At least six times an hour the attendants checked on me — plenty of "waddah," no wine.
Around dusk, Agrippa arrived. He said that he had been searching the army's medical stations for me; the Tenth was his last stop.
Caesar had stood down the Sequani cavalry, telling them they had done enough for one day. The butcher's bill was dear. Besides Madog and Alaw, out of the force of forty-seven riders, there were ten dead, seven wounded, and two missing. Athauhnu was temporarily in command.
But, the battle with the Helvetii wasn't over. The legions had pushed them off the southern ridge, but they had fallen back on their baggage train, which the Helvetii had converted into a stockade. The legions' two assaults had failed to break through. Caesar was considering bringing up his reserves, the Eleventh and Twelfth Legions.
"Why doesn't Caesar just allow them to withdraw?" I asked. "He has defeated them."
Agrippa shrugged. "They frightened him. Although he'll never admit it, the Helvetii had set an ambush for Caesar, and he allowed his army to fall right into the trap. Even worse, when the Boii triggered the ambush, Caesar was out of position, unable to control his own forces. They showed him up badly. His ego demands he destroy them completely."
I nodded. Many men would die that night to appease Caesar's wounded pride.
About an hour into the first watch, Spina came into the tent. He was pale, exhausted. His bloodshot eyes had a strange, far-away look in them. A smudge of dried blood dirtied his left cheek.
He gave me a quick physical examination; it didn't hurt as much this time. He did the drill with my eyes again, this time using an oil lamp because of the dim light in the tent. He asked me a few questions: Was I still feeling dizzy? Did my head still hurt? Had I vomited in the last few hours? Did I feel numbness anywhere in my body?
Satisfied with my answers, he pronounced that I wasn't going on any imminent stygian boat rides, and he ordered one of his crows to administer some wine mixed with Morpheus poppy to help me sleep.
And sleep I did.
No sooner had I sampled a bit of Spina's potion than I tumbled into a bottomless, black pit. I did not become aware of my own existence again until I sensed, through the darkness in which I was floating, someone shaking my shoulder. When I climbed out of Morpheus's black realm and my eyes finally cleared, I saw Labienus standing at the foot of my cot. He was dressed only in a military tunic. And, since I was obviously still alive, I assumed that the battle was over and we had won.
"Is it over?" I managed to croak.
Labienus raised his eyebrows and asked the crow, "How long has this officer been unconscious?"
"Since the night before last, Legate," the capsarius responded.
"Ah ... that explains it ... Please leave us, Soldier," he said.
I watched the man leave. Someone had erected partitions around my cot.
"I'm glad to see that Spina's magic potion worked its wonders," Labienus smiled. "How're you feeling?"
I had to think about that for a few moments. My head still hurt, but the pain seemed to be outside of my skull now, isolated around the spot where the horse struck me.
"Okay," I croaked.
Labienus walked over to a stand next to my cot and poured some water from a pitcher into a ceramic cup. He handed it to me. "Here, drink some of this!" he offered.
"Water ... without drugs ... that should loosen your tongue a bit."
While I drank, Labienus talked, "Athauhnu credits you with killing the German thegn. Technically, his horse killed him ... rolled over him when he went down ... saddle horn just about cut him in two ... but you knocked him off the horse. So the kill is yours."
I put the cup down and nodded. "The battle?" I asked. "The Helvetii?"
"Oh, that," Labienus answered. "We breached their barricade night before last ... almost into the third watch ... Had a devil of a time preventing a massacre. The men really had their blood up. Can't blame them really. It was a bloodbath. The survivors, warriors mostly, fled east toward the Rhenus."
"Caesar in pursuit?" I asked.
"Pursuit?" Labienus repeated. "No ... not yet at least. The army's exhausted. We're bringing supplies down from Bibracte. The Aedui have been pretty forthcoming now that they don't have the Helvetii to hide behind. We're cleaning up the battlefield ... recovering our dead. The funeral rites will be held tomorrow. Then, we settle with the Helvetii."
"Was it bad?" I continued.
Labienus shook his head. "Worst Rome has seen in a while. Almost four in ten are down in the veteran legions ... More than half of those dead or soon to be. Spina and his mates have been swimming in a sea of blood."
He began to trail off, then changed the subject. "But, that's not why I came to see you. There's been a development based on the intelligence you brought back from that Greek merchant north of Bibracte. Caesar wanted me to share it with you."
Labienus sat down on the edge of my cot and lowered his voice, "When we breached the Helvetian laager, we captured a Roman ... almost missed him in the confusion. He tried to blend in with our muli, but one of our sharper troopers nailed him from his haircut. Can you imagine that? We brought him back to the praetorium for questioning. Arrogant little sod! Let us know straight off that he was a client of Pompeius Magnus, and if we harmed a hair on his head, we'd have to answer to his boss. He confirmed everything we've suspected. Pompeius has been encouraging the tribes to resist Caesar ... even had his oldest son up here to demonstrate his sincerity to the chiefs and to spread his silver around.
"It seems that Pompeius wanted a military disaster in Gaul to remove Caesar as a political rival and to panic the senate into declaring him dictator and giving him a military command in Gaul. He was willing to sacrifice six Roman legions to make it happen. Had his plan worked, it would have been the massacre of Arauso all over again. His son, Sextus, has been in Hispania, putting the legions there in motion to block any potential barbarian incursions south of the Rhonus. Presumably, with Caesar dead or disgraced and Crassus tucked away in Parthia, Pompeius would be the only real power in Rome, and he'd have an army behind him."
"What does Caesar plan to do?" I asked.
"Caesar?" Labienus raised his eyebrows. "At the moment, Caesar plans to do nothing. The military disaster, which was needed to set Pompeius's plan in motion, never came to pass ... just the opposite, in fact. When word of this victory reaches Rome, Caesar's political stock and popularity with the mob will soar. Besides, the word of a traitorous Roman spy is worthless against a man as powerful as Pompeius. Caesar will just watch ... watch, and wait for his opportunity."
"Did this man have any information about my situation?" I asked.
"No," Labienus shook his head. "We put the question to him ... but he claimed he'd never heard of you. We're pretty certain that the tribune with the scar was your old friend Aulus Gabinius Iunior. He's supposed to be down in Massalia, supervising the military docks as part of the quaester's staff. He could have taken a road trip up-country with Pompeius Iunior. And, his father, the consul, has always been in Pompeius' marsupium, his purse ... in more ways than one." Labienus chuckled at his own pun. "So, as the wise men say, 'Where there's smoke, there's probably a fire.' Perhaps there is a connection."
I was not satisfied. "Can I speak to the man?" Labienus shook his head. "We'll be burning many Romans tomorrow. Caesar thought one more wouldn't be noticed."
I had hit another dead end — in more ways than one.
Labienus stood up. I raised my hand to stop him. "Sir, there's one other thing I don't understand."
"What's that, Insubrecus?" he asked.
"Why did the German attack collapse so quickly?" I asked. "By the time Emlun picked me up off the ground, our muli were already mopping them up."
"Oh, that!" Labienus barked a humorous chuckle. "You're new at this. You'll learn that for pilosi, the hair-bags, to have any chance of success against us, they need surprise and momentum. The Grunni, those Kraut Grunters, almost achieved their surprise when they came up suddenly on our rear, but we were able to stop them. After that, they made no attempt to conceal their movements, which gave us time to counter them. They never had overwhelming strength, and they couldn't gain any momentum against our lines. You saw how the thegn couldn't even control his own shock troops ... couldn't get them moving when we offered the opportunity. Then, he sent his bodyguard cavalry in ahead of the attack to exploit the gaps we had opened in our lines, and they just got tangled up in their own muster-men, who couldn't get out of the way. When the German attack finally got moving, it slammed right into the rear of its own troops and stopped dead. Almost comic when you think about it. Even their favorite god, Woden, couldn't untangle that mess.
"Then, when you got into their rear with the Sequani and put their leader down, the fight just went out of them. That's the way it is with barbarians. I ordered our battle line to advance, but as soon as I did, the muster-men started throwing down their weapons. Then, the rest did the same. The fight left them like wind out of a sail. Amazing, really."
Labienus turned to leave. "Caesar sends his regards and hopes that you will soon be on your feet and back on duty in the praetorium. He wants you to review his staff journals concerning the battle before sending them to Rome to announce our victory in the forum. Oh, and I think he's going to offer you command of his praetorian cavalry."
"Command?" I questioned. "What about Valgus?"
Labienus looked away for a heartbeat, "Valgus didn't make it. We'll be honoring him and many other brave Roman soldiers tomorrow at the funeral rites."
The funeral rights for our slain were conducted the next day. On the battlefield, four huge pyres, one for each of the veteran legions engaged in the battle, were built by captured Helvetii and Tulingi. During the fourth watch of the night, the bodies of our dead, after having been washed and wrapped in their military cloaks by their contubernales, their tent-mates, were laid by torchlight on top of the pile of well-oiled lumber and brush.
I noticed that the bodies of officers and muli, even the tribunes we had lost, were laid together side-byside on the same pyre. Labienus explained that in Roman military tradition, there is no rank, no privilege, among the dead. We all cross the river in the same boat.
At dawn, the six legions of the army were assembled on parade around the pyres. Each legionary eagle, carried by its aquilifer, his head encased in the jaws of a lion, the paws of whose pelt draped over his shoulders, came center around a platform that had been erected the night before. To the left of each legionary aquila stood the primus pilus, the top-soldier of the legion. In front of the platform was one of the army's portable altars, and to its right, a stone-lined pit had been dug. In it, a fire burned, constantly fueled from a pile of dried wood and tended by legionary slaves.
As the sun broke above the eastern horizon, the legions remained silent, absolutely still. The only movement in the entire field was the fluttering of legionary crests and unit banners as the breeze accompanying the dawn moved across the ranks of silent men.
To my left, a mournful trumpet call sounded. Then, a procession led by Caesar, in his role as pontifex of the Roman state, slowly wound its way toward the altar. With his toga draped over his head, Caesar bowed to the altar and climbed the platform. He stood facing the legions, threw the folds of his toga back off his head, raised his hands in the direction of the pyres, and began the Laudatio Mortuum, the Eulogy for the Dead.
"Infantes!" Caesar intoned. "Boys! We gather here on this field of honor, consecrated by the sacrificial blood of our comrades, to bid farewell to these brave men, our brothers, who gave their lives so Rome might live."
Caesar spoke for less than a quarter of an hour, but I could see tears forming in the eyes of even the most hardened of our veterans. No one in the army was untouched by what we had endured in order to defeat the Helvetii. Every man on that field knew the name and remembered the face of a comrade now lying on one of the four pyres.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Swabian Affair"
Copyright © 2017 Ray Gleason.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I. Pro Contubernalibus Valete A Farewell to Comrades,
II. De Fine Belli Contra Helvetios The End of the Helvetian Campaign,
III. Massalia Quod Cognovi What We Learned in Massalia,
IV. De Reconciliatione Gabinia My Reunion with Gabinia,
V. De Proposito Novo Caesaris Caesar's New Ambitions,
VI. De Bello Novo Caesaris contra Ariovistum Caesar's New Campaign against Ariovistus,
VII. Comites Caesari Caesar's Companions,
VIII. De Legatione Caesaris Ad Ariovistum Caesar's Embassy to Ariovistus,
IX. De Iternere Ad Ararem The Journey to the Arar,
X. De Iure Galliorum Gallic Justice,
XI. De Itinere ad Vesantionem Our March to Vesantio,
XII. Vesantio Vesantio,
XIII. De Itinere ad Castrum Bellum Our March to Belfort,
XIV. De Calamitate in Colle Pecorum The Debacle at the Hill of Flocks,
XV. De Nece Reducitur Amicus A Friend Brought Back from the Dead,
XVI. De Caesare et Ariovisto Caesar and Ariovistus,
XVII. De Proelio ad Silvas Vosagonis The Battle near the Forest of Vosago,
XVIII. De Fine Belli Primi Mei The End of My First Campaign,